Can Workplace Conflict Support Process Improvement?

Last updated: Jan 17, 2023

What good can come out of office squabbles, customer backlash, and hurt feelings? Plenty, it turns out. Those internal issues are signaling something in your company’s processes and procedures that are inefficient or broken. Once you’ve identified those areas for growth, you can then apply process improvement principles to turn things around.


The key is to channel that conflict into productive avenues without driving a wedge between employees, business partners, and customers. You must confront the issues head on without shying away from difficult conversations. Keep reading to find out how several common workplace conflicts can hint at underlying issues that can be solved with process improvement techniques.


Continuous Improvement Solves Ambiguous Work Responsibilities

One sure way to create workplace conflict is by failing to clearly define individual roles and responsibilities. This presents a major barrier to continuous improvement because it creates an opportunity for duplicate work, territorial battles over responsibilities, neglected tasks, and many more issues.


Particularly if your team has undergone personnel and business changes since the pandemic, you may have a drastically altered workplace. If you haven’t done so in the last few years, take the time to update everyone’s professional description. This exercise will force you to look critically at each role to ensure skill gaps don’t exist.


Performing a careful talent inventory can help you plan the direction of the company for years to come and make sure you have assembled the right team to make it happen. But you can’t get to that point until you clearly define everyone’s roles and responsibilities.


Cultural and Philosophical Differences Create Workplace Conflict

Particularly in large organizations, cultural and philosophical barriers are sure to arise at some point. When allowed to fester, this discord can manifest itself in behaviors like bullying, insults, noncooperation, and resentment. Naturally, most companies view these staff differences, and the resulting consequences, as a weakness rather than the strength that they can be.


Instead of allowing employees to dwell on their differences, encourage everyone to view the company’s varied team as an opportunity to identify new solutions. The old maxim “the same thinking yields the same results” remains as relevant today as it was when it was first said. When personal differences are not welcomed and respected by everyone on the team, your company risks missing innovative ideas that could transform the business’s products or services.


Ideally, your workplace would reflect the varied culture of your end consumers, helping you to better anticipate and meet their needs. Give employees the encouragement and opportunity to respectfully express their thoughts about the work you all do. Foster open, honest conversations about the company, and use that feedback to implement changes that address employee concerns, whether it has to do with the workplace atmosphere or how you serve customers.

Two male employees working together to resolve a workplace conflict.

Fear of Conflict Stifles Workplace Improvements

A fear of coworker conflict can sabotage many opportunities for workplace improvements before they even get named. To spare hurt feelings, workarounds are often implemented, but this is a huge mistake and the antithesis of process improvement. Workarounds, which typically involve extra effort by other employees to cover for a recurring problem or limitation, can cost companies exceptional amounts of amounts of time, money, and resources, particularly when strung out over many years and multiplied across various departments. Still, too many individuals view critical feedback as a personal attack and take offense, allowing office inefficiencies to persist.


To avoid this, give employees a clear process to provide constructive feedback in a way that doesn’t assign blame:

  • Remember that debates are for the good of the organization, not being right or looking good.
  • Keep discussions focused on the facts, logical arguments, and the current topic.
  • Discourage personal attacks that can create defensiveness and strong emotional reactions.
  • Respect all views and give yourself permission to change your mind.

Adhering to these rules during the discussion allows companies to tackle ongoing challenges with all of the intellectual power at their disposal. Failing to communicate inefficiencies and broken processes out of fear of conflict only allows these issues to persist, sapping profitability from companies and hurting employee morale.


Resource and Treatment Inequity Create Barriers to Company Success

Many workplace conflicts can arise from how various employees perceive the distribution of resources and overall treatment. Particularly today with so many hybrid workplaces, offsite employees may not feel as supported as their in-office counterparts. This has been dubbed a two-class system where remote workers get promoted less often, receive fewer bonuses, and put in more unpaid overtime.


If your company wants remote employment to work long term, you must address the biases that could be hurting these off-site employees. True, remote work options allow you to cut company costs, attract a greater pool of talent, and retain current employees, but these workers won’t stick around if they perceive inequality when compared to their in-office counterparts.


If your company is receiving recurring complaints from particular groups of employees, whether they’re located off-site or clustered in one department, that’s a great sign that you’re not supporting your team as well as possible. In the case of remote employee discontent, efforts should be made to regularly illustrate that they are considered a vital part of the team. This includes regular virtual meetings with the camera on, transparency around compensation and rewards, multichannel opportunities to connect with colleagues, frequent check-ins, and occasional in-person meetups when possible.

A manager discussing to his team about why workplace conflict can support process improvement.

Conflict Over Company Mission and Goals

If your company has diverging beliefs about the goals and mission of your business, friction and inefficiency are inevitable. When half the employees are rowing in the opposite direction, your business won’t go anywhere. Fortunately, this conflict allows you the opportunity to crystallize your company’s mission and goals to navigate change.


Particularly in today’s rapidly shifting economic and social times, skillfully reacting to marketplace change has never been more important. Without a clear understanding of your company’s ultimate mission, though, it’s impossible to adapt. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to ensure your company has the streamlined vision that allows you to succeed:


  • Talk to your customers to discover how their needs and beliefs may have changed.
  • Ask your employees for their input on the company’s ultimate purpose.
  • Define the guiding values that your company uses to accomplish its mission.
  • Revisit your company’s mission/purpose and refine based on your findings.
  • Set up a process to regularly evaluate whether your mission remains relevant.


For true business efficiency, all members of a team must be working towards the same goal. After reflecting on your company and developing a sharpened sense of purpose, you can begin implementing workplace changes that focus your efforts on a clear goal and prevent you from chasing irrelevant objectives.


Strengthening Your Business Through Workplace Conflict

When managed well, conflict can be a tremendous tool that your company uses to grow. Healthy resolution of conflict is important, but you can take it a step further by analyzing what caused the conflict in the first place. Then you can use that knowledge to implement the changes that make your business stronger.


If you want to further explore how workplace conflict and process improvement principles can work together to strengthen your company, we can help. Our Lean Six Sigma Yellow, Green, and Black Belt certificate courses can equip you with the hands-on continuous improvement skills that set you apart in your market. Learn more about how to transform your company using these world-renowned principles.


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