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Operations Management Approach To Conflict in Organizations

From the Disputing Blog of Karl Bayer, Victoria VanBuren, and Holly Hayes.

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the University of Texas “Innovation in Health Care Delivery Systems: Maintaining Quality and Reducing Costs Through Management and Information Technology”. One breakout session featured Donde Plowman, Ph.d., Business Professor and Department Head from the University of Tennessee. She has recently undertaken a study to increase the relevance of health services research to leaders in the health field. She asked health care CEOs for their general impressions of the current state of health services research and they responded as follows:

1. You don’t research what we care about.
2. Your models are too simple.
3. Your models are too general.

Dr. Plowman then asked, what do you care about? The CEOs responded: staffing, evidence-based medicine, information technology, data/benchmarking, trust building, communication and leadership.

Dr. Plowman focused on leadership stating it is more of a “behavior than a role and more of a process than a person”. She spoke about the opportunity leaders have to create organizations where innovation can occur. One aspect of innovation in organizations, she believes, is the presence of conflict. So often, leaders are responsible for reducing conflict, but Dr. Plowman argues, conflict is often where innovation comes from. She states, perhaps conflict in the organization means there is life in the organization. For more on Dr. Plowman’s research on how organizations change, read here.

Dr. Plowman’s presentation prompted me to think about the role of conflict in organizations. Physician Executive magazine published the “Conflict management checklist: a diagnostic tool for assessing conflict in organizations”. See the full article here.

The article agrees with Dr. Plowman’s assessment and says: “Depending on how the conflict is managed, the experience can be growth enhancing for the individuals involved or it can be destructive to relationships and self esteem. Conflict well managed can tap the creativity and problem-solving skills of colleagues, taking advantage of different gender, cultural, and role perspectives to create mutually beneficial solutions. Conflict poorly managed or consistently avoided reduces productivity, undermines trust, and may spawn additional conflict.”


I. Identify the critical information:

A. Define the conflict situation
B. Organization factors
C. Personal factors

II Ask yourself these questions:

A. Whose problem is this?
B. How does my behavior contribute to the dynamics of the conflict?
C. What elements of the situation am I able and willing to change?
D. What are the time and resource constraints?
E. What matters most to me/to the other party in this situation?
F. What is at stake for me/for the other party in this situation?

III Steps to facilitate your personal effectiveness in a direct approach to the conflict situation:

A. Focus on issues relevant to the situation
B. Define the situation in terms of a problem that calls for a solution, not as a threat that calls for attack
C. Acknowledge feelings
D. Ask for specific behavior change
E. Identify what you are willing to do in the situation

Let us hear your thoughts on the role of conflict in organizations. For more on this topic, see our series on conflict resolution in health care here (Part I, II, III, IV, and V).


Holly Hayes

Holly Hayes Bovio received a Masters in Health Administration (MHA) from Duke University and her undergraduate degree from Southern Methodist University. She holds a certificate in mediation from Texas State.  Holly brings a strong hospital operations background to healthcare mediations including a focus on clinical quality.  Holly managed her own consulting… MORE >

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