Conflict at the Top: The Case Study

Subject: Case Studies
Pages: 5
Words: 1481
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: PhD


The case study Conflict at the Top is a review in pursuit of completion of my degree. Using a case study this paper looks into management issues that relate to conflicts due to initiated change in an organization. Secondary sources are to review the case study.

Typical Problems with Top Executive Teams

By definition of its name, an executive team is composed of individuals charged with the responsibility of running an organization. The process of their work which is coupled with a variety of factors such as their diversities and personalities presents problems towards the integration of such teams. One of the problems that are normally realized in such groups is the difference in approach to communication which is normally preferred by different team members. Some individuals in a team will, for instance, prefer a confrontational approach in discussions towards whatever approach is to be taken by the team over an issue. At the same time, some team members would prefer a diplomatic approach in which discussions are made to an agreement over an issue. Similarly, some will restrain themselves from participation in discussions even if they hold contrary opinions. Participation in team discussions without restrained expression of reservation of opposition to topics leads to uniformity in views with respect to decisions that are made. At the same time reservations in the process or failure to participate in such deliberations may isolate a team member from the agreed upon approach which he/she may not accept.

The problems in communication that start at the decision making process by the team and which transcends to implementation processes are normally characterized by factors such as high tension between individual team members in further communication processes. These are further translated into elements such as people being “impatient, bullying, rushed and rude when reacting to colleagues” (Chen, 2006, p. 240). This particular problem was evident in the case study with one of the vice presidents being extremely arrogant to a colleague in an implementation process of a decision that was collectively made. Dennis, who was the company’s engineering vice president, was not at all receptive to Mary in her attempt to fulfill her obligations. Though Dennis was present in the meeting that approved the responsibility that was assumed by Mary and never opposed the decision, he failed to cooperate towards the implementation of the policy. The communication problem is also realized in the way in which he handled Mary (Chen, 2006).

Another problem that is normally realized in management teams is the difference in approach to solving problems. While the team members may agree on the need to take appropriate actions for the development of their departments or even the entire organization, there might be a significantly realized difference in the mode of implementation of such agreed upon moves. While some individuals may prefer a direct hard touch on an approach to making changes in processes, some team members may prefer an alternatively softer approach that is not so dynamic. This same problem was realized with Dennis as he was not opposed the changes that were to be made in his department but was only opposed to the approach that was being used to effect those changes. Dennis actually preferred an internally initiated approach to improving efficiency from within his department rather than having Mary directly participate in the process (Chen, 2006).

Also realized as a problem with management teams and teams in general is the variation in “work norms and behavior among individual team members” (Chen, 2006, p. 241). These differences may be realized in terms of fitting into the plans and schedules of the organization, conflict of interest and personal characteristics as realized by individual team members. These factors affect the relationships among team members that may eventually paralyze the operations and objectives of the management team. Under this category is the attitude that was realized from Dennis as he left Mary in his office and even shouted at her arrogantly (Chen, 2006).

Negative relations that could already be in existence among management team members are also a problem that threatens teams. Factors such as “hatred, anger, distrust” among others that might have been in existence early are likely to have contributed to Dennis’ reaction to Mary since he did not even accord her the chance to explain her concept (Chen, 2006). The process that was being undertaken to initiate improvements in the organization is also itself a problem. Changes especially when they in one way or another do not appeal to management teams may cause conflict like the one that was realized in the SW plant of aircraft systems (Johnson, 2005).

Conflict Management and Conflict Resolution Methods

Since conflicts are bound to occur in any organization, the manner in which such conflicts are handled with respect to managing them and even eventually resolving them make a lot of difference in the relations among team members. In managing conflicts, a variety of methods and strategies are important. Collaboration among the members of the team is one of the tools to managing conflict. Collaboration is achieved through trust, shared responsibilities and willingness to accept change thus reducing conflicts in a team. Developing a culture of compromise among individuals in interactions as well as people being accommodative to one another with respect to opinions and actions also helps to establish contained level of realized conflicts (Home, 2001).

In an event of a conflict, it becomes a necessity that a resolution is found in which the conflicting parties can be reconciled or the conflict resolved in any possible means. Some of the identified approaches to conflict resolution include “win- lose, lose- lose and win- win” (Fisher, 2000, p. 4) with regard to the satisfaction of the conflicting parties. In the case study, for instance, a win- lose approach was adopted with Dennis losing his job and Mary realizing the support of the company’s CEO (Fisher, 2000).

Requirements for Success in Change Initiatives

Change initiatives in an organization are normally met with a number of resisting forces. These forces can take a variety of forms such as restraining environmental factors or even internal resistance. It however remains the duty of the top management, the executive officer, to ensure that any objective change initiative whose benefit to the organization has been identified becomes successful. In pursuit for this success, the executive must ensure that some measures are taken into its realization. One of the requirements into realizing a successful change initiative is the identification of objectives to such a change. Since people are normally resistant to change, from their traditional operations, there is normally the need to through transformational leadership that is normally realized by influence makes the team members to understand the reason for the change as well as the benefits that will be achieved from that change. A clear elaboration of the intentions for the change can at the same time help in eliminating fears into resistance to such intended change. Self understanding of the leader with respect to his/her position on the change to be initiated as well as the reception and perception of other people’s opinions also play an important role in the success of a change. Identification of the necessity for the change together with outlining the framework for that change is also realized to be a tool to making the change successful due to enhanced understanding by team members. Another element in initiating change and implementing such change is the involvement of expert consultants in the process to make work easier. The general management of the whole process is another tool to the success of a change. While poor management will generally reduce chances of success, good management will enhance it (Hannun, 2008).

  • What did Jason do right? The decision by Jason to establish a win- lose conflict resolution approach was right since Dennis was a threat to the initiated change and the innovator, Mary, was threatening to leave the company.
  • What should Jason have done differently? Contrary to an instant approach that led to the elimination of Dennis, Jason could have tried to meet both parties and help them reconcile to the resolution of the conflict.
  • What did Mary do right? Mary’s decision to avoid heated exchange with Dennis and reporting the matter to Jason was a right move.
  • What should Mary have done differently? Instead of being emotional and expressing her desire to have Dennis penalized, Mary should have been more accommodative.


Conflict resolution is a sensitive process. Conflicts have a huge potential of negatively affecting the productivity of team members and in general the whole business unit depending on how far the affected members influence other members in the business unit. In resolving a conflict they is a need for composing though at times drastic measures should be adopted if the conflict threatens the success of the project and if the project is significant to the business firm.


Chen, Y. (2006). National culture and groups. California, CA : Emerald Group Publishing.

Fisher, R. (2000). Sources of conflicts and methods of conflict resolution. AUPEACE.

Hannun, M. (2008). Ten critical factors for a successful change initiative. Linkage International. Web.

Home. (2001). Conflict management strategies and styles. Home.

Johnson, L. (2005). Overcoming barriers that destroy teams. HBSWK.