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Conflict Management

in a Both/And Framework

Barry Sugarman/ORGmuze

Conflicts From the Both/And Challenge


There are many examples of dilemmas where an ORG faces an important choice between two directions - both equally necessary but they seem to be incompatible opposites, e.g. formality and  flexibility, the Bureaucratic model and Adhocracy.

Apparently BOTH are needed for ORG success. 

The dilemma may be ORG-wide in its application and many dilemmas may have mainly local application within the ORG. Since every ORG is a system, some local matters can have major consequences, even like the canary in the coal mine.

Is it even possible that the right attention to this challenge can lead to valuable insight and a great advantage to the ORG?  


Let's identify some different kinds of these challenges and where they appear. Both/And Challenges appear at different levels of an ORG. including: work-team, cross-team, cross-department, the ORGanization as a whole. 

Now we focus on

Face-to-Face & Granular Level Conflicts Anywhere

in the ORGanization


My vision / hypothesis here is to use a form of conflict management in the service of smarter strategy formation and organizing. This goes beyond the most common form of conflict management as damage repair  - although that is still a valuable function.  I suggest that we seek out the conflicts that reveal an unseen, unattended Both/And problem. Then in the best cases unpacking the problem leads to a creative new way to utilize underused existing resources. 


The goal here is to use some visible conflicts as opportunities to better understand the mysterious ORG in question, as the players work together to find a better way. Many times this "silver lining" or "golden surprise" will not be foundat first, just the usual "first-aid" job. Sometimes though the process becomes deep with industry-wide implications, like Lean Management. But a high-performing learning/teaming organization competing in the big league should have some capacity to self-diagnose and learn as an ORG.  

Conflict management at the granular level of person-to-person work relationships can be seen as a challenge to transform a dysfunctional  "odd couple" (who must collaborate with their vital different abilities but who cannot tolerate each other's style of working ) so they can become productive partners.  In various  situations, like this granular "odd couple" level and in more complex Both/And situations players must tolerate some paradox and confusion, without blaming other players. Once again we see the core disciplines that enable Org Learning.

Uncovering the mental models beneath the conflict requires the willing work of dialog, active listening, and respectful conversation.  Systems thinking is also needed.

Such conflict situations are sure to be found in a mature ORG where a variety of products and services are being developed and launched in a fast-moving, hyper-competitive market. This ORG is trying to draw from the storybook of Adhocracy management as well as the playbook of Bureaucracy. Of course that will produce many potential conflicts in the workforce (including managers). Many will be  processed informally; some that remain may be markers of deeper issues and/or opportunities.


In Bureaucracy all conflicts are resolved by the boss or the boss' boss. The aim of Adhocracy is to replace this rigidity and delay with fluid, informal, direct, networked communication. However this creates a great volume of meetings and messages. Committees proliferate to ensure full  sharing of information and coordination. How are decisions made? All by committee? By individuals after wide input and review? Does this ORG culture contain trust that decision-makers hear and respect all views?

Gerstner believes this was a major difference between the IBM that crashed and the restored, successful company.  

(Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?)

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