Many strategies have been offered and this paper will examine several models that have been used by companies to turn employee conflict into productive (and profitable) behaviour.
Conflict has been studied extensively in recent years, often in connection to studies on workplace teams. Most workplaces in the United Kingdom utilise workplace teams, according to the 2004 Workplace Employment Relations Survey (Overell, 2005). The survey also shows that serious conflicts are relatively rare, with Overell noting that just 8 percent of employers have had a tribunal claim brought against them. But it is the less serious types of conflicts amongst employees doing their assigned jobs that can hamper an organisation: the disagreements over how to handle a problem, or what project to tackle next, or even how many meetings to schedule to address another problem at hand. Serious problems can arise when the dynamic at hand diverts the team's energy from its task (Haddock, et al., 2005: 87). Some authors (Gibson et al., 2003: 250) define negative conflicts as "dysfunctional," because it harms the organisation. Contrast that, then, to "functional conflict," which produces constructive debate and promotes change.
Some causes of conflict include personality differences, different value systems, conflicting roles and goals and rivalry among team members or between different departments within the organisation. Organisations prize diversity and diversity often breathes in fresh life (Winter, et al., 2005:67) but it can also bring constant sources of conflict and disagreement.
Conflict is not to be provoked, certainly. Measures can be taken to divert disruptive and dysfunctional conflict before it occurs. Collaboration amongst team mates or within the organisation as a whole is desirable, adding value to the company with many benefits, including faster decision making and lower costs (Weiss & Hughes, 2005: 93). To get to the point of effective collaboration requires, Weiss and Hughes add, figuring out how to resolve conflicts that naturally arise. That process also produces benefits, as disagreeing staff (regardless of how organised) can generate new ideas that would have not been thought of previously. The authors, partners in a management consulting firm, describe this as "the crucible in which creative solutions are developed and wise trade-offs among competing objectives are made." Lack of conflict may be a symptom of stagnation or a reliance on "groupthink," where members simply agree on a solution to be done with it, or for political expediency, and not for the good of the organisation. Gibson et al. note (p. 251) that, in other areas of Western culture, such as family and school life, conflict is suppressed and participants are asked to accept situations without question. Many companies have long awarded managers for lack of conflict, so the pressure to suppress disagreement is still embedded in people when they arrive at the workplace.
Based on the work of industrial psychologist Kenneth Thomas (1976: 889-935), five methods for dealing with conflict occur in the workplace: Avoidance, Accommodation, Compromise, Competition and Collaboration. These strategies have been further defined by DeJanasz et al. (2001: 247-249). Avoidance is quite common, following the traditional social view described above that conflict is always bad. Accommodation involves "smoothing over" disagreements, often using the accommodation as social capital for some later negotiation. When disagreeing parties compromise, they