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What is Organizational Conflict? Types of Organizational Conflict, Causes, Impact, & How to Manage Organizational Conflicts? (PDF Included)

Conflict within organizations is a common and often unavoidable aspect of workplace dynamics. While conflicts can be disruptive, they can also lead to growth and innovation when dealt with effectively.

In this article, we provide a detailed examination of organizational conflict, including its types, impacts, causes, and strategies for resolution, complemented by real-world examples and theoretical viewpoints.

What is Organizational Conflict?

Organizational conflict arises when there is a disagreement or discord within a workplace due to differing opinions, goals, values, or interests among individuals or groups.

Conflicts can appear at multiple levels, such as between individuals (interpersonal), within a team (intragroup), or among different teams or divisions (intergroup).

Types of Organizational Conflict

  1. Interpersonal Conflict: This type of conflict takes place between individuals and can arise from personal differences, communication problems, or competing interests.
    • Example: In a software development firm, two programmers might conflict over their approach to a coding problem. One prefers a meticulous, methodical process, while the other advocates for a rapid, iterative approach. Their differing perspectives create tension and hinder collaboration on their shared project.
  2. Intragroup Conflict: Intragroup conflict happens within a single team or department. It often arises from arguments over how a project should be executed or how resources should be allocated. For instance, team members might have different opinions on the timeline for a project, causing disputes within the group.
    • Example: Within a marketing team, members may have differing opinions on the best strategy for a new campaign. Some may prefer a traditional, safe technique, while others push for a bold, innovative direction. This disagreement can lead to delays and frustration within the team.
  3. Intergroup Conflict: Intergroup conflict involves disputes between various teams or departments within an organization. This conflict often occurs from competition for resources or differences in departmental goals.
    • Example: The finance and operations departments might have conflicting priorities in a large corporation. The finance team may concentrate on cost control and budget adherence, while the operations team prioritizes efficiency and process improvements. These varying objectives can lead to continuing disputes.
  4. Task Conflict: Task conflict is related to disagreements about the content and goals of a task. It can be useful by promoting critical thinking and diverse points of view.
    • Example: During a product development meeting, engineers might have different ideas about the technical specifications of a new device. Some advocate for cutting-edge technology, while others prefer a more tried-and-true approach. This type of conflict, while intense, often leads to a more robust and well-considered product design.
  5. Relationship Conflict: This conflict arises from personal issues, like clashes in personality or emotional discord. Relationship conflicts often lead to reduced cooperation and less productivity.
    • Example: Continual personal disputes among colleagues disrupt their ability to work together effectively.
  6. Process Conflict: Process conflict arises from arguments about how tasks should be performed. This can include disputes over roles, responsibilities, and actions. For instance, team members may have different views on the workflow or decision-making process for a project, leading to conflict over how to proceed.
    • Example: A sales team might be divided over the process of managing customer leads. Some members prefer a structured, formal approach, while others advocate for a more flexible, adaptive method. This conflict over procedural preferences can affect the team’s ability to implement a consistent strategy.

Causes of Organizational Conflict

  1. Resource Scarcity: Limited resources, such as budget, time, or personnel, can lead to rivalry and conflict. Teams or departments vying for the same resources may find themselves in conflict as they seek to achieve their targets.
  2. Differing Goals: Conflicts often arise when individuals or groups have differing goals. For example, a production team focused on efficiency might disagree with a quality control team that prioritizes high standards, leading to conflicts over how to balance speed and quality.
  3. Communication Breakdown: Miscommunication or a lack of communication can result in misunderstandings and conflicts. Effective communication is essential to avoid conflicts and ensure that everyone understands each other’s viewpoints and expectations.
  4. Personality Differences: Diverse personalities and work styles can lead to interpersonal conflicts. Differences in temperament, values, or approaches to work can create friction among team members, potentially leading to conflict.
  5. Role Ambiguity: Unclear or overlapping roles and responsibilities can cause confusion and conflict among employees. They may be uncertain about expectations, resulting in disputes over task ownership and accountability.
  6. Power and Status Differences: Hierarchical structures and power inequalities within an organization can lead to conflict. Different levels of authority or influence can lead to conflicts among individuals or groups regarding decision-making and control.
  7. Cultural Variations: Varied cultural heritages and values can result in misunderstandings and conflicts. Disparities in communication approaches, professional standards, and outlooks may pose obstacles in a diverse work environment.

Impact of Organizational Conflict

  1. Negative Impacts:
    • Reduced Productivity: Conflicts can distract employees and waste time that could be spent on productive activities, leading to reduced efficiency.
    • Decreased Morale: Persistent conflict can lower employee morale and job satisfaction, potentially increasing absenteeism and turnover.
    • Stress and Health Issues: Prolonged conflict can cause stress and negatively affect employees’ mental and physical health.
    • Impaired Collaboration: Conflicts can damage relationships and hinder teamwork, making it difficult for employees to collaborate effectively.
  2. Positive Impacts:
    • Innovation and Creativity: Constructive conflict can stimulate innovative thinking and problem-solving by encouraging the consideration of different perspectives.
    • Improved Decision-Making: When managed well, conflict can lead to better decision-making by challenging assumptions and exploring alternative solutions.
    • Personal and Professional Growth: Navigating conflicts can enhance individuals’ interpersonal skills, resilience, and adaptability, contributing to personal and professional development.
    • Clarification of Issues: Conflicts can bring underlying issues to the surface, allowing them to be addressed and resolved, ultimately leading to a clearer understanding of organizational dynamics.

Managing Organizational Conflict

1. Effective Communication: Promoting clear, open, and honest communication is essential in stopping and resolving conflicts. Encouraging active listening and ensuring that all points of view are heard can help reduce misunderstandings and foster a more harmonious work environment.

2. Conflict Resolution Training: Providing employees with training on conflict resolution techniques can equip them with the skills needed to handle disputes kindly. This can include training on negotiation, mediation, and effective communication approaches.

3. Mediation and Facilitation: Involving a neutral third party to negotiate or facilitate discussions can help resolve conflicts fairly and objectively. Mediators can assist in identifying underlying issues and guiding organizations toward mutually acceptable solutions.

4. Establishing Clear Roles and Responsibilities: Clearly defining roles, responsibilities, and expectations can reduce ambiguity and prevent conflicts related to task ownership and accountability. Ensuring that everyone understands their role and how it fits into the broader organizational context can minimize potential conflicts.

5. Encouraging Collaboration: Promoting a culture of collaboration and teamwork can lessen competition and foster positive relationships among employees. Encouraging team-building activities and collaborative problem-solving can help create a more united work environment.

6. Addressing Issues Early: Dealing with conflicts early, before they escalate, can prevent minor disagreements from becoming major conflicts. Proactively addressing issues and encouraging open dialogue can help clear up conflicts before they become entrenched.

7. Fostering a Positive Organizational Culture: Cultivating a culture of respect, trust, can minimize conflicts and create a supportive work environment. Promoting values such as empathy, fairness, and open communication can help avoid conflicts and enhance overall organizational harmony.


Organizational conflict is a natural aspect of the workplace, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be detrimental. By understanding the types and causes of conflict, and implementing effective management strategies, organizations can transform potential confusions into opportunities for growth and innovation. Embracing conflict as a natural element of organizational life can lead to stronger, more resilient teams and a more united work environment.


  • Robbins, S. P., & Judge, T. A. (2017). Organizational Behavior (17th ed.). Pearson.
  • Thomas, K. W. (1992). Conflict and Negotiation Processes in Organizations. In M. D. Dunnette & L. M. Hough (Eds.), Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology (2nd ed., Vol. 3, pp. 651-717). Consulting Psychologists Press.
  • Jehn, K. A. (1997). A Qualitative Analysis of Conflict Types and Dimensions in Organizational Groups. Administrative Science Quarterly, 42(3), 530-557.
  • Rahim, M. A. (2002). Toward a Theory of Managing Organizational Conflict. International Journal of Conflict Management, 13(3), 206-235.

Sukanta Maiti

I am a Mechanical Engineer by profession, Blogger, and Youtuber by passion. I have been in the engineering field since 2014. I am passionate about sharing all my knowledge about engineering, management, and economics to my readers.

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