Organizational conflict occurs in every company. It destroys morale and affects operating performance. And when it's targeted at support functions like HR, IT or finance, it's disruptive and counterproductive to any organization, big or small.
Contrary to what you might think, there's nothing normal or inevitable about this sort of thing. It's dysfunctional organizational behavior, plain and simple.
The bad news is that it's usually a reflection of executive management and a function of how the company is organized. The good news is that it can be minimized if someone on the executive management team is willing and able to champion that effort.
But keep in mind, while the goal is to minimize organizational conflict, you don't want to repress healthy conflict that's necessary for consensus on real business issues.
The best example of an organizational structure and process for support functions I've come across was at National Semiconductor, where I worked as vice president of corporate marketing in the late 90s. National had a relatively simple but effective system for aligning groups and minimizing inter-group churn. Here's how it worked.
Best Practice: National Semiconductor, c. 1997
Division or group VPs had finance controllers, HR business partners (that's what they called HR managers assigned to our group) and, in some cases, IT managers assigned to their staffs. These folks reported to their functional bosses, but with a dotted line to the division or group VP.
To me, it felt like the reverse.
The folks assigned to my group did a fantastic job of working with me and my staff on budgeting, reviews, interviews, compensation, communications, benefits, position specs, layoffs, you name it. They joined my weekly staff meetings and were a real asset to the team.
It was surprising, but I observed essentially zero "us versus them" or finger-pointing mentality among my group. And believe me, there were plenty of major issues during that time. Plenty.
Now, it's true that HR has some difficult and critical functions. But when you look at HR as part of your divisional staff, it becomes clear that they're not solely responsible for issues of morale, motivation, discipline, fairness, work environment, and the like. The responsibility is shared and they're simply part of the team.
But when companies are purely functionally organized, that's when HR is unfairly tagged with resolving issues that, frankly, are impossible for them to resolve on their own. The same could be said of IT, finance, and other centralized functions, as well.
Look, I've worked with my share of pain-in-the-butt HR, finance and IT people. But after 20 plus years in business, I can honestly say that the bell curve for those functions is essentially the same as for any other function. Engineering, sales, marketing, executive management, you name it.
Beyond that, it really does come down to organizational structure and top-down executive management. At least that's my experience. What's yours?