Root Causes of Conflict in Work-Groups

Studies have shown that over 85% of the root causes of organizational performance problems are in the structures, systems, and culture within which work-groups are embedded. Structures and systems are either consciously defined with purpose and intent around a strategic direction as an Intended Culture, or they emerge naturally from the patterns-of-interaction of the personalities of managers and staff within work-groups, departments, and functional units as an Unintended Culture. Unintentionally designed structures and systems that create contention between managers are the single biggest cause of destructive conflict in work-groups. So focusing on conflict in a “work-group” without understanding the structures, systems, and culture within which it is embedded almost guarantees that change will not be sustainable, because the managers and staff within the work-group are less than 15% of the real problem. Identifying the root causes of conflict in work-groups should always begin by asking four key questions:

  • How much of the conflict within the work-group is being created by the organizational structures, systems, and culture that are outside the work-group?
  • How much of the conflict within the work-group is in response to dynamic forces and pressures that originate from outside the work-group, or from the external environment; e.g., changing levels of revenue, competitors, customer demands, the efficiency of enterprise-wide business processes or functional units that support the work-group, etc?
  • How much of the conflict within the work-group is being created by interacting with other organizational units (or groups outside the organization) that operate from different disciplinary paradigms?
  • How much control can the work-group exert over these factors?

The answers to these and other questions will allow you to begin evaluating the root causes of performance issues and destructive conflict that come from outside the work-group in a more systematic and rigorous way. They will enable you to better: a) understand how individual group members with specific personalities are likely to respond when subjected to these external forces and pressures, b) anticipate the kinds of conflict-processing strategies that group members are likely to propose in response to organizational forces and pressures, c) utilize both-and-thinking to decrease the probability of destructive conflict and create better business solutions in day-to-day operations, and d) manage the levels of destructive and constructive conflict between team members to ensure that the climate within the work-group is positive and motivating, rather than negative and counter-productive.


Culture Talk™

Learn what organizational culture is and why it matters by watching Culture Talk™ – an on-line video series that explores key questions about organizational culture and how it powerfully affects day-to-day operations and the bottom-line in your organization.

Culture Talk™ Video Series

For more information on the Breckenridge Institute’s unique approach to improving your organization’s performance and sustainability go to or contact us at

Organizational Impasse Indicator™

Does your organization find it difficult to make key decisions, and once made do they go unimplemented or get reversed? Do projects that seem to have the full support of top managers and key personnel die a slow death and no one knows what happened to them? Does your organization’s culture act like an Invisible Bureaucracy™ that prevents you from getting the results you want? These are some of the signs that your organization has reached an impasse. The Breckenridge Institute’s free Organizational Impasse Indicator™ will show you what this may be costing you in squandered time and energy – hidden costs that don’t appear on Balance Sheets or Budget Statements.

Free Organizational Impasse Indicator™

Just click on the link above, complete the questions in 2-3 minutes, and your free Organizational Impasse Indicator™ report will be sent directly to you. This is the first step to making invisible bureaucracy visible and to moving beyond the organizational impasses that prevent your organization from getting the results it wants.

HBR Editor’s Blog

Every month, the senior editors of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) invite internationally recognized organizational theorists and practitioners to raise issues and answer questions about leadership and management issues on the HBR Editor’s Blog. This month, we provide Pinnacle readers with links to two important and interesting discussions (see below).

Elizabeth Haas Edersheim, The BP Culture’s Role in the Gulf Oil Crisis

John T. Landry, What a Culture of Candor Really Takes

We encourage you to join the conversation on the HBR Editor’s Blog and voice your opinions, commentary, and insights on these and other important topics.


Mark Bodnarczuk’s book, Making Invisible Bureaucracy Visible: A Guide to Assessing and Changing Organizational Culture is available at on-line world-wide at locations like

The Breckenridge Institute® is now using Michael Goldberg’s book, The 9 Ways of Working with its BTI™ certification programs and publicly available workshops. Goldberg’s book provides valuable insight into how co-workers and bosses think, what they want, and why they act the way they do.

Mark Bodnarczuk recently spoke about his book, Making Invisible Bureaucracy Visible at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna (see

For a more complete listing of on-line videos, books, articles, and white papers from the Breckenridge Institute® go to

Breckenridge Institute®

If you would like information about the Breckenridge Institute’s research activities, portfolio of assessment tools, or consulting services, visit our website at Also visit

Copyright © Breckenridge Institute® 2010. All Rights Reserved
Underwater Photo: © Annie Crawley, 2010,


Culture Corner

“If members of the group hold widely divergent concepts of what to look for and how to evaluate results, they cannot decide when and how to take remedial action.”

Edgar Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership


The Breckenridge Culture Indicator™ (BCI™)

The new Breckenridge Culture Indicator™ (BCI™) is used to baseline organizational performance and culture and to help define a performance improvement strategy that includes both the “hard” technical side of integrating business systems with the “soft” human side of an organization. Because it can be used to baseline the performance and culture of an entire organization or a work-group, the BCI™ is typically used by top managers, business owners, and middle-managers when they are anticipating or experiencing significant change due to, substantial growth; reorganizations; changes in leadership; change in strategic direction; decline in business performance; mergers and acquisitions; sale or spin-off of business units; or major IT implementations. It can also be used as an effective alternative to 360-degree reviews because it allows you to evaluate a manager’s leadership and management skills, within the context of an organization’s structures, systems, and culture. The BCI™ is now available to qualified users 24X7 anywhere in the world with an Internet connection.

Contact Elin Larson for details on how you can begin using this exciting new tool in your organization or with your clients (970-389-4666 or

Books and Articles

Michael J. Goldberg, The 9 Ways of Working

The 9 Ways of Working introduces the nine personality styles of the Enneagram, a classic, highly powerful approach to work and life. Each of the Enneagram’s nine types has a distinct worldview that determines how they think, what they want, and why they act the way they do. You’ll recognize the personality types of the people you work with – colleagues, clients, bosses – as well as your own. And you’ll discover the most effective ways to work with these people:

  1. The Perfectionist gets things done right – regardless of the consequences.
  2. The Helper nurtures others’ careers – and demands to be appreciated for it.
  3. The Producer works hard to succeed – but can burn out in overwork.
  4. The Connoisseur explores his or her creativity and deep feelings – but may get lost in them.
  5. The Sage craves data, theories and insight – but may forget the human element.
  6. The Troubleshooter knows the secrets and who can be trusted – but can get mighty paranoid.
  7. The Visionary inspires with brilliant, fun, imaginative ideas – but leaves closure to others.
  8. The Top Dog exercises leadership – but may end up as a vengeful bully.
  9. The Mediator wants everybody working as a conflict-free team – but may forget his or her own goals.

Drawing on twenty-five years of teaching and consulting, Michael Goldberg’s rich descriptions catch the ‘aha!’ of each style with insightful anecdotes and real-life stories. He shows how each style is likely to connect with or miss the others, what kind of leadership is right for certain situations, and how each style makes important decisions and gets work done. You’ll see the special gifts and talents of each style, their limits and blind spots, and when they will shine and when they will wilt. The 9 Ways of Working is packed with practical tips and cautions for each style and for working with each style.” The 9 Ways of Working, is published by Da Capo Press and is available on