Managing Conflict in Large-Scale Organizations: Strategies for Success

Published: June 12, 2023 | Last Updated: December 4, 2023by Jon Houston

When running a large-scale organization, there are tons of moving parts to pay attention to. For that reason, most large companies segment everyone into departments and teams, with direct and department-level managers overseeing employees.

With such a rigid and segmented workforce, it’s hard to create a cohesive and uniform company culture. Also, with so many people working under the same brand, conflicts can erupt relatively quickly.

For those reasons, it’s imperative for a large organization to implement a comprehensive conflict management strategy. Although it’s nearly impossible to prevent all conflicts before they occur, it is possible to effectively the handle situation.

Fortunately, with training from Pollack Peacebuilding Systems, organizations of all sizes can stay on top of these incidents and prevent them from escalating into full-blown problems.

What is Conflict Management?

There are two ways to look at conflict management – on an individual case-by-case basis, or at scale for the entire business.

For individual situations, it is a means of navigating the situation so it doesn’t get out of control. In many cases, the circumstances that led to the conflict may still remain, but a the parties are capable of preventing further outbursts or altercations.

At an organizational level, conflict management means having a system in place to recognize and mitigate conflicts as they arise. This system aims to reduce the need for conflicts by having people and processes in place to address issues as they come up.

For example, the system may have instructions on how to handle conflicts among co-workers listed in the employee manual. Similarly, the system may put in place a chain of command to address and resolve conflicts, with individual managers only getting involved if the person below them can’t do it.

Conflict Management vs. Resolution

Conflict resolution is when you’re able to come up with a reasonable solution that addresses both parties’ needs and goals. Overall, conflict resolution is a “best-case scenario” where everyone is satisfied with the results.

By comparison, conflict management doesn’t necessarily need to “resolve” the dispute. Instead, each party may agree to certain circumstances (such as avoiding each other or avoiding specific discussion topics). From there, they can continue to work together as professionals, even if they still don’t like the other person.

Top 6 Strategies for Managing Conflict in Large-Scale Organizations

Conflict management training is a worthwhile investment, but only if you back it up with reinforcement and repetition. Here are some of the best ways to incorporate conflict management into your large-scale business:

1. Determine Your Objectives

Because we need to discover a way to move forward (not necessarily to make everyone “happy”), you need to determine what that means.

In some cases, does that mean individuals who were engaged in a conflict can still work side-by-side?

In other cases, does that mean the individuals must work apart from each other as much as possible?

Basically, you need to develop objectives that can work for multiple types of workplace conflict. Typically, companies will focus on maintaining productivity and the bottom line, but not always.

Since conflicts can breed discontent and future altercations, it’s imperative to understand what it will take to avoid further work disruptions. Also, consider the needs and emotions of other workers who may be affected by these changes.

2. Choose Peaceful Leaders Wisely

Realistically, you don’t want everyone to undergo training. Many entry-level and low-level positions are not equipped to handle conflicts effectively, so they shouldn’t be considered. That said, you don’t necessarily have to train all supervisors and managers, either (at least not the same way).

The best person to be in charge of navigating disputes (i.e., our Peaceful Leader) is someone with the authority to make changes and enforce them as needed. For example, if an entry-level worker tried to do that, they would have to submit a request and wait for approval. Even then, they wouldn’t personally oversee the enforcement of the adjustments, so it’s better to train someone at a higher pay grade.

You must also consider the long-term plans of individuals who may take this training. Are they trying to move up within the ranks? Or do they plan on switching companies in the next few years?

Part of your strategy is to know who will replace a leader if and when that person leaves. Not having this chain of command in place can leave you scrambling when something does happen, and you’re not sure who is qualified to fix it.

3. Be Flexible With Your Strategy

Just because you think your system will work one way doesn’t mean it will. As the saying goes, the best-laid plans often go awry.

So, rather than trying to “fix” what’s broken and assume you developed the “best” strategy, you should look at what’s worked in the past and what could work in the future.

Also, you may have developed a conflict management strategy long before anything happened. Then, once a conflict erupts, you realize that your objectives are either misguided or impossible to achieve.

Overall, you need to recognize that each conflict is unique, so you can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach.

4. Develop Different Approaches to Unique Situations

Conflicts can happen anywhere at any time, so you have to be prepared when something goes down.

Further complicating matters is the fact that conflicts can occur between different types of people, meaning you have to come up with solutions accordingly.

Here are the most common situations that may arise in a large-scale organization:

Co-Worker Conflict

Typically, conflicts are between co-workers of the same team and department. Since these employees must work together often, minor infractions or incidents could escalate over time.

In other cases, conflicts may occur between co-workers of different departments, making it harder to spot the situation and address it as needed.

Conflicts Between Employees and Supervisors

If an employee and a supervisor are engaging in conflict, that could make it harder to find a reasonable resolution. Because one person in the situation has more authority and autonomy within the company, it’s imperative to have an impartial third party for mediation.

Also, you have to tread carefully to avoid claims of retaliation or discrimination if the resolution is dissatisfactory. Overall, it’s imperative to be objective and figure out what really happened.

Managerial Conflict

Managers and supervisors may not get along for a myriad of reasons, such as differences in management styles. When these conflicts arise, it’s best to determine a chain of command and appoint an objective mediator.

Again, if one manager outranks the other, you can wind up in a tricky situation. However, it may be easier to deal with the conflict if these managers don’t have to work side-by-side or interact with each other often.

Conflicts Between Customers and Staff

Customer conflicts can be damaging for the company, so you must develop a comprehensive and swift plan of action.

While the “easiest” solution is often to terminate the employee who engaged in the conflict, it’s still important to understand what happened. In some cases, the customer may have acted improperly or provoked the employee unnecessarily.

Nonetheless, how you handle these conflicts could affect everything from the brand’s reputation to how well employees interact with each other moving forward.

5. Think Long-Term

There’s a tendency to believe that conflict training is a one-time thing. However, because strategies can change and evolve over time, it’s best to invest in ongoing training as much as possible.

Also, what happens if those who took part in this training are no longer with the company? What if a whole new batch of supervisors and managers move into their respective positions with no training?

Overall, you must have a plan of action so you can ensure long-term conflict management that will stay consistent across departments and managers. Otherwise, there’s no real point in investing in this training at all.

6. Implement Conflict Processes Across Departments and Positions

Conflicts can happen anywhere at any time, so you need to develop plans of action based on different circumstances. We already discussed what to consider regarding who is involved, but you must also pay attention to elements like:

  • Property Damage
  • Harassment Claims
  • Verbal and Physical Abuse
  • Quid Pro Quo Scenarios
  • Illegal Activity
  • Hospital and Medical Bills
  • Public Perception

Your conflict strategy must address each of the conditions individually. Otherwise, if you’re left unprepared, you could be faced with a huge problem later on.

For example, what if a conflict erupted between co-workers that then led to a physical fight between employees and customers? What if the fight led to property damage and video footage spreading across social media?

You need to know what to do in that situation, so your strategy must be developed accordingly.

Invest in Conflict Management Training From Pollack Peacebuilding Systems

Thankfully, Pollack Peacebuilding Systems makes it easy to develop a system for handling interpersonal issues at your organization. Contact us today to find out more.

Jon Houston

Jonathan has been a freelance writer since 2014, and focuses on leadership and conflict management for PPS. He loves food, traveling, and movies, although not necessarily in that order. He lives in Atlanta, although his heart is still in Los Angeles. He has written for a diverse number of clients and loves learning about new topics and industries.