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Engineering Manager: Resolving Organizational Conflicts

Miguel Garcia
Published: January 3, 2023

This article is a follow-up to Engineering Manager: Resolving Intrapersonal Conflicts and Engineering Manager: Resolving Interpersonal Situations. In the previous articles, we talked about interpersonal conflicts, which are conflicts between two or more people that do not agree on topics such as what actions to take or what the priorities are. Today we will talk about organizational conflicts, common scenarios, and some tips on how to manage them in a professional environment.

Organizational

This conflict is associated with misalignment or disagreement between members of the organization and the organization’s cultural values, strategic decisions, goals, or methodologies. Usually, this kind of conflict starts when people believe that their values, professional development, goals, or attitude are not aligned with the organization or with the management layer of their areas.

Career Path

Most people are interested in a professional career path and together with the salary level and manager affinity are one of the main reasons to change companies. People want to promote because of the recognition, provide value across the company, and also the salary increase.

The problem with the career path and promotions not only depend on people there are other factors such as:

  • How many positions are available?
  • If the company prioritizes talent recruitment or team growth
  • Company financial status
  • Sometimes it is necessary to bring in outside talent to bring in new ideas.
  • When the promotion implies a change of role, even if all the technical requirements are met, there are some soft skills that are considered restricted. Soft skills are sometimes not easy to measure.

When people want to be promoted to global contributor roles, soft skills are often more important than technical capabilities.

Impacts

When people meet all requirements to promote to a new role but promotion does not occur, three things usually happen, one followed by the other:

  • People become demotivated.
  • They share this demotivation with part of the team.
  • They leave the company.

Tips

  • Transparency: We must always be honest and transparent with our team. Never promise promotions based on the requirements of merit because there are factors that we do not control.
  • No promise: We can never promise a promotion; we can manage the promotion.
  • If not possible: Sometimes promotions are not possible in the short term. We have to share this message in a constructive way and try to look for alternatives that can satisfy them for a period of time.

Cultural Values

When people join a new company or team, they bring their cultural values from their last experience. During the day-to-day, they probably face situations that generate intra-personal and interpersonal conflicts because they are not used to resolving them in the same way. There are two common scenarios:

  • Fear to make errors so that when they make a mistake (I make mistakes every day), it implies a situation of internal confrontation between being honest with their team or trying to solve them quietly.
  • They try to apply their cultural values in terms of best practices, responsibilities, or communications that do not have to be the ones we want in our company.

Impacts

In a company’s normal growth, people usually need a few months to adapt to the team and this should be part of the onboarding process

The higher risk appears when we are hiring many people in a situation that requires fast growth because we are generally not as meticulous in the onboarding process. They can spread along the company the opposite culture that the company promotes.

Tips

Always remember that the people who join the company bring with them a culture that may be very different and that we have to work with them to align them with the values we want to promote. The cultural values, tips, and common scenarios must be included in the onboarding process and also in the follow-up plan.

People automate behaviors, so when they start a new company they probably unconsciously apply methodologies or behaviors learned in their previous roles. Teams need to be aware of this because during the onboarding process they will face situations that they will have to manage. Our teams have to empathize with people and at the same time mentor them. It is important to assign a mentor who can spend time with new people and support them in their new environment.

In very rapid growth it is necessary to assess these risks and establish a team growth strategy. There are several strategies that we will discuss in another article.

Burnout

Burnout syndrome was defined by Herbert Freudenberg  as a “state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by one’s professional life.” Of course, it is an intra-personal conflict but caused by many other conflicts during people’s professional careers.  

It is very different from impostor syndrome mainly because burnout does not provide any positive aspects to the organization or people. People who are experiencing burnout are emotionally exhausted, interpret any situation negatively, have low self-esteem, and have generally lost the feeling of fellowship.

These are some of the main factors that contribute to employee burnout:

  • Deadlines/time pressures: Working in a constant environment of pressure to achieve goals with unmanageable workloads
  • Lack of role definition: Not being clear about the responsibilities and goals of people’s roles generates a constant situation of uncertainty about what is expected of them. It usually leads to a feeling of unfairness. 
  • The relationship with the management layer

Impacts

When people are burnout imply a negative impact on every area of life:

  • Health: There are studies that have shown how negative it is for overall health, not only mentally.
  • Team: Promotes negative dynamics and does not empathize with people and therefore tends to generate conflicts
  • Performance: Being exhausted means that they cannot focus on the objectives. 

Tips

There is no single factor, people generally get into this situation because of mismanagement by their manager and the organization:

  • Marathon, not a sprint: People cannot be constantly working as if everything were a sprint. We have to be very careful not to create a culture of continuous excessive effort.
  • Conciliation: Promote a goal-based and flexible culture. People have children and emergent situations where we have to support them when they need this flexibility. The important thing is not how many hours they are working, but achieving the goals as a team.
  • Responsibilities: Not giving responsibilities that they cannot manage because they have no skills or because they are in a complex personal situation at this moment
  • Support with conflicts: We need to support them to resolve conflict situations and not look the other way.
  • Take a break: Provide mental and cognitive breaks for people who are under higher stress. Giving them more time for self-learning, and making temporary rotations to lower stress initiatives.

Burnout is the consequence of many other unmanaged conflicts and occurs progressively over a long period of time. There are many indicators that we can detect during one-to-one or informal talks.

Conclusions

These types of conflicts are the main causes of people leaving the company, but there are cases in which as managers, we cannot do anything in the short or medium term about the root cause of these conflict situations.

We have to prevent people from getting into burnout by providing the best possible workplace and providing all the necessary support to our teams. We must provide constant feedback to the organization on these types of conflicts and promote a culture of transparency, honesty, and continuous feedback. These are the foundations for constant improvement and the way to reduce these kinds of conflicts.

We must also be honest with ourselves and with people when cultural values do not fit between the two parties and perhaps the best thing to do is to seek new challenges in another team or company. Sometimes as a manager, we have an obsession with retaining people in the team and I think we need to change that goal to find the best environment for them.

Source: dzone.com