Organizational Decision-Making and Conflict Engagement

By: Amanda Guidero

Decision making in an organizational setting can be tricky business, especially if the various departments within the organization have competing agendas. This is especially true in cases where the actions of one department can inhibit the actions of another. In these cases, leaders might make decisions that satisfy one set of demands at the expense of others. Further complicating decision making are the various organizational characteristics, such as the structure of the organization, funding source, reputational goals, size, and mandate, which all serve to compel and constrain leaders in their decision process.  Such dynamics can lead to intraorganizational conflicts that threaten the organization’s efficiency and effectiveness as a whole by stymieing organizational learning and damaging the working relationships between individuals.

Inclusive Decision Processes and Organizational Learning 

Making decisions that reduce the potential for misunderstandings and competition while also providing an enabling environment for conflict engagement is an important skill for effective organizational leadership. Organizational leaders have several decision-making strategies available to them that can prevent unnecessary misunderstandings while promoting processes that allow various organizational staff to assert their needs, express their feelings, put forward their ideas, and promote particular outcomes.1 Perhaps the most important strategy is creating an environment that incorporates multiple stakeholders in the decision process. Although the leader retains final say on decisions, providing people from a variety of departments and roles information and a chance to voice their perspective can encourage open communication and insight into why certain decisions are made as well as provide acknowledge and validation for the legitimacy of diverse perspectives.

When the decision process is one that involves multiple people and a variety of perspectives, it provides staff the opportunity to raise concerns about organizational errors that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. Such discussions can lead to changes that can increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the organization and further help leaders achieve their goals by providing an enabling environment that allows staff to share their observations and feedback to leadership.2 Under the right conditions, such actions can lead to organizational learning, which results in improved norms, assumptions, and objectives.

Leaders can develop a system that encourages staff to provide feedback and also enables staff to constructively discuss points of disagreement, which will help them gain new insights into the reasons why certain decisions are made as well as hear the perspective of their colleagues. By promoting greater understanding of the decision process, leaders can reduce interdepartmental competition and instead foster collaboration and constructive conflict engagement that ensures organizations are working as efficiently as possible. Developing the right mechanisms for effective decision making and conflict engagement can help organizations manage the inevitable conflicts that arise.  With an online Master of Science in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution from Creighton University, you will learn how to build better mechanisms for effective decision making and conflict engagement in your organization.

Amanda Guidero, Ph.D., is a Fellow of Conflict Engagement at The Werner Institute.

1. For more information on conflict engagement, see Mayer, B. (2012). The dynamics of conflict. San Franciso: Jossey-Bass.
2. See Argyris, C. (1977). Double loop learning in organizations.  Harvard Business Review, 55(5), 115-125. See also Spitzeck, H. (2009). Organizational moral learning: What, if anything, do corporations learn from NGO critique? Journal of Business Ethics, 88(1), 157-173.