Intergroup conflict might arise in any workplace as various groups work together to support and further the mission and collective interests of the company. Some groups are defined by job title—the accountants, the lawyers, and the marketing team. Other groups are defined by project or subject area. Still, others may be determined by the level in the company or by social preferences and interactions. A typical employee will be a part of a few groups during their work, even moving between groups throughout the day. Some projects or campaigns will involve only one group, but many projects and campaigns will require multiple groups to work together. To run your project smoothly, it’s important to understand the potential causes and the social psychology of intergroup conflict.
Intergroup relations can strengthen the quality of the work and encourage creative thinking; however, intergroup work may also lead to intergroup conflict, when the group members do not see eye-to-eye. Conflict resolution should take part as early as possible, which will prevent heavy consequences. Some intergroup conflicts, known as functional conflicts, may help identify weaknesses in the project and increase the quality of the output. Other intergroup conflicts, known as dysfunctional intergroup conflicts, may derail a project and counter the company’s goals and objectives. When conflict arises in intergroup situations, identifying the possible cause, preparing for potential setbacks, and planning to address and resolve the conflict between our group members’ identities will allow a company to move forward.
Identifying the Cause of an Intergroup Conflict:
Anyone of various factors may cause conflict between several groups or two or more groups working together. Identifying the possible or probable cause of the group will help create a course of action for this particular conflict and be better prepared for and even eliminate a similar problem in the future. Some common examples of the causes of intergroup conflict include:
- Miscommunication: Like most conflicts, poor intergroup contact and miscommunication are common causes of intergroup conflict. This often results from one group needing to accurately or represent their intentions or goals.
- Lack of Resources: If resources are tight in an organization, or the budget for a particular project is small, there may be conflict around which group can use the resources provided.
- Competitiveness: Similar to a lack of resources, competing for respect or esteem between the groups often leads to conflict when the project is based on collective work.
- Superiority Belief: If one group feels superior to another, it will often result in conflict.
- Perceived Bias: Somewhat opposite of superiority belief, a perceived bias is when one group or person feels valued less than another for an unknown or unnecessary reason. This often causes conflict when the situation reinforces this belief in some way, even if not true.
- Rejection of Norms: Each group will have a set of norms followed by the group, from work style to feedback and confrontation. Conflict will often result when another group violates a group’s norms.
- Individual Differences: Occasionally, individuals in different groups will have differences or conflicts that may affect the group. This may result from past harm or any of the examples listed above.
- Organizational Climate: Occasionally, the climate in the office will create conflict. Usually, this is the case when something about the project’s climate is making those participating feel stressed. It could be the space given to work, the time pressure, or the fear of retaliation if the project is not completed on time.
These examples are incomplete; many other issues can contribute to conflict. Once the cause of conflict contexts two or more groups of two or more groups of two or more groups of causes of conflict have been identified, a company will need to determine what damage has already been done and how to save the project.
Preparing for Potential Setbacks:
Intergroup conflict can be helpful for a project, as noted in the introduction. Psychological research shows that functional conflict intergroup attitudes will unite one group to compete with each other or prove their superiority on the project. This will often shift focus away from the conflict and onto the project, which can increase efficiency and output. Friendly competition for valued material resources can inspire creative solutions and force groups to think outside the box. It can increase pride in the company and improve the relationships between the group employees. However, these tend to devolve into dysfunctional intergroup conflict if not closely monitored quickly. Dysfunctional intergroup conflict may quickly push the project off track or completely derail the group level entire project if it is not stopped and swiftly identified. Additionally, the conflict may have caused some setbacks already. Potential setbacks to prepare for when there is known or suspected conflict in-group members are:
- Loss of Focus on Goals: Conflict can quickly push the different groups into hypervigilant focus on the conflict itself and away from the goals set out in the project.
- Isolation: Groups that feel they must compete as part of a project may isolate themselves. This will often stifle creativity and diversity of thought and can lead to a breakdown in communication.
- Mistrust: Similar to isolation, a group may start to mistrust the other groups participating and be very secretive about the project or ignore suggestions for improvement.
- Negativity: Unhealthy conflict will often lead to negativity, decreasing production.
- Miscommunication: Miscommunication is one of the biggest setbacks likely resulting from the conflict. This can include both miscommunication and a breakdown of communication between the groups. When communication breaks down, the project will have a difficult time recovering.
If any or all of these setbacks are present in an intergroup group living project, it is best to act quickly and stop the conflict from becoming dysfunctional. This can include reiterating goals, reorganizing group living structures in future research projects to shake up the groups, and encouraging open communication and interaction between group leaders. Finding solutions quickly will help keep the group living project on track. However, when a group’s conflict has devolved to the point of being fully dysfunctional, it will likely be necessary to take more drastic measures to refocus the group living project, keeping intergroup members’ human needs in mind.
Planning to Address and Resolve the Conflict:
Addressing and removing a conflict in an intergroup setting is difficult. As mentioned above, many factors will influence how the different members of our group feel about the conflict and how they are being treated, which must influence how the conflict is addressed. Additionally, the severity of the conflict, the instigating factors, and the type group level of conflict must all be factored into a plan. While one method may work for one type of group level of intergroup conflict resolution, it may not work for all, which is why the cause and the first signs of conflicts are important to notice. The methods to address conflict in natural groups range from avoidance and problem-solving to alternative dispute mechanisms.
First, there are several conflict options to consider when the conflict is minor or can be dealt with at the individual or group level. It is essential to include the team and other group members in the conflict discussion to ensure that they feel understood and remove any intergroup aggression. The methods of the various group-level conflict resolution that can be used are:
- Common Goal: If groups working together have differing goals for the project, it can be beneficial to set a goal for the whole team that may only be achieved by all groups working together. This should be tied to the most critical aspects of the project in case the conflict resumes shortly after the goal is reached.
- Demonstration: Executives and upper-level employees should focus on fairness and ethical behavior, especially when approaching and giving feedback on the project to the team or in employee-facing situations. This will allow employees to see the dedication and amplify these characteristics.
- Open Communication: Encouraging employees to speak up if there is something they disagree with, reminding employees that the team is all united to work for the good of the company, and ensuring that everyone understands the value that they and their coworkers add to the company will all create open lines of communication that can stop conflict quickly.
- Avoidance: Avoidance will not resolve the underlying conflict, but it may allow a group to work together for a time by simply working around the conflict. It can also allow the group to achieve a purpose that reorients them to the original goal.
- Authoritative Command: Authoritative command should only be used on a minor conflict that cannot be resolved through other processes but can be avoided through a decision based on management. It will not resolve the conflict, but it will help the team to decide what to do next instead of being stuck in gridlock.
When conflict is larger than a simple misunderstanding between two or more groups with competing ideas, or if the options above did not solve the conflict, it may be best to move the conflict out of groups and into an alternative dispute mechanism. These can be in-house problem-solvers, or the group living company may offer outside help. When alternative dispute resolution is used in a group, it should encourage healthy and constructive conflict. Still, it should also resolve the heart of the conflict so that a group will not end up in the same situation. Alternative dispute resolution will require all parties to be on board with the idea and willing to work with the facilitators.
Intergroup conflict is often a part of projects in the workplace. It can encourage healthy competition and cooperation, driving all groups to improve. However, it can cause group issues and eventually jeopardize the entire project. Suppose a conflict begins to appear in group bias that threatens the project. In that case, it is important to identify the cause, prepare for initial setbacks, and address and resolve the intergroup conflict beforehand. Intergroup conflict is unnecessary and can be avoided through creativity, cooperation, and planning.
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