HRMS Team Conflict Resolution & the 5 Conflict Modes

When any group of individuals is working together to a fixed (and probably tight) deadline, with limited (even insufficient) resources, each being responsible for overlapping and interlocking tasks, and dealing with sometimes unenthusiastic stakeholders, some conflict is inevitable. When it comes to your HRMS team, conflict resolution may be the difference between HRMS success and failure.

It may be as simple as two experts not understanding each other. When implementing a new HRMS, most organizations take the opportunity to review their people procedures; likewise, the new systems standard workflows may need tweaking to reflect the organization’s needs. When your HR expert and your system/IT expert attempt to bridge this gap, sometimes they might as well be speaking different languages; and linguistic barriers are breeding grounds for misunderstanding and conflict!

Another possible ‘clash zone’ is with stakeholders when the team is consulting and communicating on system features. A lot users’ initial reaction to HRMS self-service functionality is that they’re going to be taking on extra work; doing HR’s job for them. But HR staff might also be resistant because some of their comfortable admin tasks are being taken away by the HRMS and they don’t know what (if any) replacement work will be on offer. Both sets of stakeholders feel threatened by the same issue but for very different reasons. Where will they focus their resistance? On the messenger, of course, the HRMS team.

Of course, conflict per se is not necessarily all bad. It can be a way of airing important issues and resolving them. The key is in how that conflict is managed and facilitated… a little practical theory can help find a way through any clashes within the HRMS team or between the team and stakeholders.

Thomas-Kilmann Five Conflict Modes

Thomas and Kilmann identified that people react in one of five basic ways when faced with conflict: by competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding or accommodating.

The differences between the five different modes can be defined according to the degree of importance an individual attaches to their own needs (views, opinions, responsibilities, etc.) and to those of the person they are in conflict with; and the extent to which they try to satisfy those two sets of needs.

Competing is standing up for your own needs at the expense of others. With this style of behavior the individual will use whatever power seems appropriate - an ability to argue, rank, etc. It may be appropriate when: it’s an emergency or when you know you’re right, and being right is more important than preserving relationships. But if co-operation is important…?

Accommodating is the opposite of competing, you neglect your own concerns to satisfy those of others. It may be appropriate when: you don’t really care about the issue or when harmony is more important than meeting your own needs. However, beware of becoming committed to a course of action you don’t agree with.

Avoiding is about side-stepping, giving priority to nobody’s needs including your own; effectively withdrawing from what is seen as a threatening situation. This doesn’t resolve the conflict, it just covers it up temporarily. It is possibly an appropriate tactic when the issue is trivial, the relationship isn’t important, or a decision isn’t necessary or you need more time.

Collaborating is the opposite of avoiding, attempting to find a solution which satisfies everybody’s concerns; the classic win-win solution. Usually appropriate when the issues in the HRMS team and the relationships are important; or a new and/or creative solution is required. This approach can take some time though, depending on the size of the conflict.

Compromising is about splitting the difference and agreeing a mutually acceptable solution. Nobody gets exactly what they want, instead they agree to an acceptable alternative. Useful when agreement is important, but time and resources are limited;

In the two examples of conflict mentioned above, all five of these modes could be adopted purely for discussion purposes in order to identify a range of possible solutions. Of course, in an ideal HRMS world, that collaborative, win-win approach (if you can afford the time to take it) would result in outcomes acceptable to everybody, but…, sometimes compromises must be made.

In the pressured atmosphere of a project team attempting to hit an HRMS go-live date and wrestling with often unhelpful stakeholders, conflict of some sort is likely to feature fairly regularly during the life of the project. This model may just give you and the team a neutral enough way of looking at the situation so that an acceptable resolution can be achieved and the project can move on.

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Dave Foxall

About the author…

Dave has worked as HR Manager for the Ministry of Justice for a number of years, he now writes on a broad range of topics including jazz music, and, of course, the HRMS software market.

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Dave Foxall