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Trevor Smith | Intergroup conflict: Woes, why, way forward

Published:Sunday | July 21, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Trevor Smith

Open hostility. Lack of cooperation. Undermining. Silos.

This scenario applies to many organisations, with very negative impact on performance, engagement, job satisfaction and staff retention.

Other woes include duplication of work, poor customer service, waste arising from tunnel vision, abuse, and the many challenges that arise from the absence of a shared vision.


- Personality clashes

A common source of intergroup conflict is tension among individuals on either side.

Differences in behavioural styles head the list. The team leaders or influencers within each group have fundamental differences in how they view life, process information, communicate and prefer to interact with others.

Those differences produce misunderstandings and conflict. Left unrecognised and unattended, these behavioural style clashes can escalate to intergroup tension and even open hostility.


Many organisations fail to take active steps to address problems arising from the very structure of their departments. For example, a sales manager needs to fill a large order from a customer with a borderline credit history to meet her quota. The accounts receivable/credit manager is concerned about the level and profile of his receivables and places the order on hold.

Since this could have career implications, the individuals could take it personally. When this kind of issue is not addressed, residual hurts dampen the spirit of cooperation. Gradually, interpersonal relationships become stilted and going to work is no longer a pleasant experience. Leaders need to be trained to recognise this type of structurally inspired intergroup conflict and to seek assistance in addressing it.



Organisations want their leaders to have a competitive mindset. ‘Be No. 1’ is the rallying cry. This competitiveness is carried over into advancing their careers.

This rivalry can go overboard and then negative intergroup conflict permeates the quality of life at work and the overall productivity of the organisation.


Editorial departments are notorious for positioning themselves as the essential factor in the success of media publications.

Similarly, doctors expect (demand?) a high level of deference in hospitals.


IT professionals speak ‘gobbledygook’ that keep outsiders at bay.

This existence of different levels of esteem often produces friction with other groups. It also inspires the creation of silos in the organisation.



Silos are a major source of intergroup conflict. Forty per cent of companies say each department has its own agenda ( 2017). Pursuit of group agendas at the expense of the organisation’s goals is counterproductive and frustrating. Silos represent a large drain on productivity, and the lack of cooperation between departments produces a waste of resources.


Scarce resources

The fight for resources is a constant in organisations. Groups want a bigger slice of the budget to achieve their objectives and that generates conflicts.


Diagnose before you prognose.

Regardless of the current level of performance of your organisation and its inner workings, improvements are always possible. There are great benefits to be derived from conducting a rigorous diagnosis of your organisation, ideally under the guidance of a skilled practitioner.

For example, clients have consistently found a wealth of unique information from the Extended DISC multiperson reports and group maps on the revolutionary FinxS platform that we use. This enables an intervention that goes to the heart of interpersonal misunderstandings and group dysfunction that can derail the quest for high levels of performance and an enriching work environment.


Recognise the fact that your strategy and structure may not only drive intergroup conflict, but may negatively impact overall performance. For example, encouraging competition within the sales team may improve sales at the cost of presenting a unified, coherent message to the market.

Removing procurement from functional managers might temper corruption at the expense of producing costly delays. Aligning optimistic forecasts from marketing/sales with caution from inventory management invites conflict. These issues need to be resolved by a process that includes guiding the realignment of group vision and the changing of perspectives.


It might take time for strategic and structural changes to take hold. In the interim, it falls to leadership at all levels to identify and address group dysfunction. There is a gap that needs to be filled by a new breed of leaders who are equipped to cope with the changing workplace environment. Investment in future-ready leadership training is critical.


Our SHRM-backed 3-D leader certification programme prepares leaders for the foregoing challenges. 3-D leader certification: Leading dominant, difficult and diverse personalities. October 2-3, 2019. Enrol now! 876-315-1345. Email

- Trevor E. S. Smith/Success with People Academy. Interpersonal relations, group dynamics and performance-enhancement specialists. Providing learning and empowerment and productivity-enhancement technology solutions. ICF/SHRM-backed certified behavioural coach programme – now enrolling. Email: