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Ch13 Conflict, Power, and Politics.doc

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Wilfrid Laurier University
Joel Marcus

Chapter 13: Conflict, Power, and Politics Intergroup Conflict in Organizations • Behaviour that occurs between organizational groups when participants identify with one group and perceive that other groups may block their group’s goal achievements or expectations • 3 ingredients to intergroup conflict: o Group identification: employees have to perceive themselves as part of an identifiable group or department o Observable group differences: groups may be on different floors, members may have different social or educational backgrounds, or they may work in different departments o Frustration: if one group achieves its goal, the other will not • Competition is rivalry among groups in pursuit of a common prize, whereas conflict presumes direct interference with goal achievement • Intergroup conflict can occur horizontally across departments or vertically between different levels • Conflict can also occur between different divisions or business units within an organization, such as between the auditing and consulting units of big firms like Deloitte • Too much conflict can be harmful, but conflict can actually be positive when: o It challenges the status quo o Encourages new ideas and approaches o Leads to change Sources of Conflict • Factors that generate conflict that are determined by contextual factors of environment, size, technology, strategy, and goals, and organizational structure • 4 sources are: o Goal incompatibility  The greatest cause of conflict, because the goals of each department reflect the specific objectives members are trying to achieve, and the achievement in one department often interferes with another department’s goals  For example, University police have a goal of providing a safe campus by ensuring locked doors, etc. but without easy access to buildings, science department’s research may be going much slower o Differentiation  The differences in cognitive and emotional orientations among managers in different functional departments  Departments or divisions within an organization often differ in values, attitudes, and standards of behaviour, and these subcultural differences lead to conflict o Task interdependence  Refers to the dependence of one unit on another for materials, resources, or info  As interdependence increases, potential for conflict increases  For example, in sequential and reciprocal interdependence, employees must spend time on coordinating and sharing info, so conflict can occur when agreements aren’t reached about coordination of services o Limited resources  Organizations have limited money, physical facilities, staff resources, and human resources to share between departments, but to achieve goals, groups want to increase their resources, which thrives them into conflict  Resources also symbolize power and influence within an organization, so in almost every organization, conflict occurs during the annual budget exercise Rational versus Political Model • Rational model is a description of an organization characterized by a rational approach to decision making, extensive and reliable info systems, central power, a norm of optimization, uniform values across groups, little conflict, and an efficiency orientation • Political model is a definition of an organization as being made up of groups that have separate interests, goals, and values in which power and influence are needed to reach decisions • Both rational and political processes are normally used in organizations, but usually not fully • For example, Amazon.com emphasizes a rational approach to planning and decision making whenever possible, but when decisions are complex, ill-defined, or controversial, they use a political model, discussing the issues with people, building agreement among senior execs and relying on their own judgment • Sources of Conflict and Use of Rational versus Political Model: Power and Organizations • Power is the ability of one person or department in an organization to influence others to bring about desired outcomes • Dependency is the key to power, for example, the greater dependency A has on B, the greater power B has over A • Power exists in a relationship between 2 or more people, and it can be exercised in either vertical or horizontal directions • The source of power often derives from an exchange relationship in which one position or department provides scarce or valued resources to other departments • For example, seasoned team managers in baseball who typically base their decisions on instinct and experience are losing power to general managers who use business theories and new analytical tools to come up with statistical benchmarks and operational standards that are believed to improve performance. As a result of their increased power, some GMs are now suggesting player lineups, handpicking members of the coaching staff, and generally telling team managers how to run the team Individual versus Organizational Power • 5 sources of personal power: o Legitimate power  The authority granted by the organization to the formal management position a manager holds  Doesn’t have a negative effect, but doesn’t generally stimulate employees to improve their attitudes or performance  Doesn’t result in increased commitment o Reward power  Stems from the ability to bestow rewards (like promotions, raises, etc) to other people  May improve performance in a variety of situations if the rewards are consistent with what the individuals want as rewards o Coercive power  The authority to punish or recommend punishment  Results in negative responses, decreased satisfaction, mistrust, fear o Expert power  Derives from a person’s greater skill or knowledge about the tasks being performed  Relies on trust that all relevant information is given out honestly and completely o Referent power  Derived from personal characteristics (people admire the manager and want to be like them, for example) • Power in organizations is a result of structural characteristics o Organizations are large, complex systems, with hundreds of people, and there is a formal hierarchy in which some tasks are more important regardless of who performs them o Some positions have access to greater resources, or their contribution to the organization is more critical o Thus, the important power processes in organizations reflect larger organizational relationships, both horizontal and vertical Power versus Authority • Authority is a force for achieving desired outcomes that is prescribed by the formal hierarchy and reporting relationships. It is related to power but narrower in scope • 3 properties identify authority: o Authority is vested in organizational positions  People have authority because of positions, not because of personal characteristics or resources o Authority is accepted by subordinates  They comply because they believe position holders have a legitimate right to exercise authority o Authority flows down the vertical hierarchy  Authority exists along the formal chain of command, and positions at the top of the hierarchy are vested with more formal authority than are positions at the bottom • Organizational power can be exercised upward, downward, and horizontally Vertical Sources of Power • Formal positions o Certain rights, responsibilities, and prerogatives accrue to top positions o People throughout the organization accept legitimate power o The amount of power provided to the middle managers and lower-level participants can be built into the organization’s structural design o Power is increased when a position encourages contact with high-level people o The total amount of power in an organization can be increased by designing tasks and interactions along the hierarchy so everyone can exert more influence • Resources o Resources are allocated in the form of budgets, downward from top managers o In most cases, top managers control the resources and determine their distribution o Resources can be used as rewards and punishments, which are additional sources of people o Resource allocation also creates a dependency relationship • Control of decision premises and information o Top managers place constraints on decisions made at lower levels by specifying a decision frame of reference and guidelines o Top managers decide which goals an organization will try to achieve, and lower-level participants will decide how the goal is to be reached o Control of info is a source of power, so managers recognize that info is a primary business resource and that by controlling what info is collected, how it’s interpreted, and how it’s shared, they can influence how decisions are made • Network centrality o Being centrally located in the organization and having access to info and people that are critical to the company’s success is a source of power o Employees also have more power when their jobs are related to current areas of concern or opportunity. When a job pertains to pressing organizational problems, power is more easily accumulated  For example, managers at all levels who possess crisis leadership skills have gained power in today’s world of terror alerts, major natural disasters, and general uncertainty o Employees increase network centrality by becoming knowledgeable about certain activities or by taking on difficult tasks and acquiring specialized knowledge that makes them indispensable to managers above them • People o Top leaders often increase their power by surrounding themselves with a group of loyal execs o Loyal managers keep the top leader informed and in touch with events and report possible disobedience or troublemaking in the organization o Lower-level people have greater power when they have positive relationships and connections with higher-ups Horizontal Sources of Power • Pertains to relationships across departments or divisions • It is difficult to measure because power differences are not defined on the organization chart • Strategic contingencies are events and activities both inside and outside an organization that are essential for attaining organizational goals (similar to the resource dependence theory) o Departments involved with strategic contingencies tend to have greater power o For example, if an organization faces an intense threat from lawsuits and regulations, the legal department will gain power and influence over organizational decisions because it copes with such a threat • There are 5 power sources that provide a useful way to evaluate sources of horizontal power: o Dependency  When one department is dependent on another, the latter is in a position of greater power o Financial resources  Money can be converted into other kinds of resources that are needed by other departments  Money generates dependency; departments that provide financial resources have something other departments want o Centrality  Reflects a department’s role in the primary activity of an organization  One measure is the extent to which the work of the department affects the final output of the organization  For example, the production department is more central and usually has more power than staff groups  It is associated with power because it reflects the contribution made to the organization o Nonsubstitutability  A department’s function can’t be performed by other readily available resources  If an employee can’t be easily replaced, her power is greater  If an organization has no alternative sources of skill and info, a department’s power will be greater  The impact of substitutability on power was studied for programmers in computer departments. When computers were first introduced, programming was a rare and specialized occupation, but now, it’s a common activity and the power of programming departments have dropped o Coping with uncertainty  In the face of uncertainty, little info is available to managers on appropriate courses of action  Departments that reduce this uncertainty for organizations will increase their power  When market resource personnel accurately predict changes in demand for new products, they gain power and prestige because they have reduced a critical uncertainty  Departments can cope with critical uncertainties by: • Obtaining prior infoa department lowers uncertainty by forecasting an event • Prevention  predicting and f
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