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Decoding the Relationship between Goal Differences and Workplace Conflict

Ideally, interacting groups will always view their goals as manually compatible and behave in such a way as to contribute to the attainment of both sets of goals.  Realistically, however, this is frequently not the case.  Several problems related to differences in goals can create conflicts.

Groups with mutually exclusive goals can find themselves in conflict.  For example, marketing usually have a goal of maximizing sales.  On the other hand, credit departments seek to minimize credit losses.  Depending on which department prevails, different customers might be selected.  A production department goal might be to minimize defective products.  The purchasing unit, however, in trying to meet its goal of lowering materials costs, may contract with vendors supplying parts of questionable quality.  Some incompatible goals may be more apparent than real; what is needed in these situations is for the conflicting groups to refocus on larger organizational objectives.

When limited resources must be allocated between groups, mutual dependencies increase and any differences in goals become more apparent.  If money, space, the labor forces, and materials were unlimited, every group could pursue its own goals.  In virtually all cases, resources must be allocated in an equitable manner, pressures toward conflict increase.  When the limited resource is money, conflict potential is particularly strong.  In some such conflicts, there is a moral and ethical dimension involved.

Finally, the different time horizon needed by groups to achieve their goals can be a source of conflict.  Research scientists working for a chemical manufacturer may have a time perspective of several years, while the same firm’s manufacturing engineers may work within time frames of several months.  A bank president might focus on 4 and 8 year time spans, while middle managers of the bank may concentrate on shorter periods.  With such differences in time horizons, problems and issues deemed critical by one group may be dismissed as unimportant by another, and conflicts may erupt.