Conflict and Collaboration

a Both/And Framework

for a Theory of Organization

Barry Sugarman

 How can an ORGanization achieve long-term success, thru several phases of renewal or reinvention.  i.e. dynamic capability?


It takes many success factors, plus a lot of luck.

Here we highlight 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 versus flexibility, the Bureaucratic model or Adhocracy.

But BOTH are needed for sustainable success. 

Is there any escape from this nightmare?

Is it even possible that this challenge can lead to valuable insight into how the right attention to conflict can give a great advantage to an 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. 

Both/And Challenges 

  • Cost and Quality - Lean management

  • Extending the Life cycle - Ambidextrous management 

  • Short-term / Long-term - Quick results or build capacity

  • Work Teams, Granular Level - Collaboration, conflict management

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. 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 creative new way to utilize underused existing resources. 

 An example is when 3M staff had been working on a problem of poorly functioning adhesives; then someone thought "That weak adhesive could be just what we need for sticky notes" and a blockbuster new product line was born.  

My approach here is similar to the way that early neurology researchers use clinical data from brain-injured patients to develop new understanding of ​ basic brain functioning. In both cases we are using "trouble data" as a resource for seeing into important areas normally not visible.


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"  (like the 3M sticky notes "aha") will not be found, just the usual "first-aid" job that is quite welcome. Sometimes the process becomes deep and industry-wide, 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 two-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 ) can become productive partners.  Both at this granular level and more complex Both/And situations require the players to tolerate some paradox and ambiguity, without blaming other players for tough situations. Again we see the disciplines that enable Org Learning.


Such situations are sure to be found in a mature ORG where a variety of products (including 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. Many will be  processed informally; some that remain may be markers of deeper issues and/or opportunities. Here "on the edge" a major duty of managers is "patching" and matching products in development,  untapped strengths in-house, with niches perceived in the market. Patching also includes pruning some projects, combining or splitting others. (Ref. - Competing on the Edge.)