Understanding Manufacturing Conflict – Why Does It Happen?

Manufacturing is much more than machinery, gears and human hands working to create various items. It’s full of interpersonal relationships that keep those cogs spinning in sync.

But all workplace relationships come with stress and conflict, even in a working environment where everyone likes each other. As workloads become bigger, hours longer, and salary differences come to light our motives and reactions change and conflict ensues.

When we say conflict we don’t mean two people fighting in the lunchroom, we mean an internal perceived threat to someone’s self-worth or to what is important to them. This type of conflict is one of the most common in the workplace. It manifests itself because our own internal ‘filters’ determine how we perceive something to be, or how we ‘expect’ another person to react, respond and behave.  

Who’s responsible for dealing with conflict?

Leadership and conflict go hand-in-hand. You can’t be a leader if you can’t spot, manage, and cool workplace conflict.

Leaders who can’t deal with conflict will eventually have to watch their top talent walk out the door for healthier, safer working environments.

Consequences of ignoring conflict:

Conflict is a pervasive phenomenon – it can affect everyone. Engagement levels fall away, processes slow, performance drops and profits bomb! You’ll think twice about asking Kevin for the quarterly numbers if you’ve just seen him have a shouting match with Jim!

And it’s not just your bottom line that is affected:

  • Extra stress / Health impact
  • Lack of engagement / Damaged morale
  • Poor staff retention
  • Lack of Collaboration
  • Missed opportunities
  • Wasted time
  • Loss of reputation
  • Damaged clients relationships


“Give us an example!”

Some people are goal oriented. They’re driven by achieving targets. These are the people who want the results as fast as possible no matter how. While others like to take the time to assess all the information before making the most logical decision.

The astronaut is eager to blast off into space and be the hero. The ground technician is eager to work out every little detail to get the job done correctly. Even though they share the same goal, they disagree on the best method to achieve it. You can see then why these behaviours will frustrate each other.

And if one person gets their way over the over, it’s a threat to their self-worth:

For example, the technician’s focus is to get things right. But the astronaut’s focus is to get results, so he pushes the technician to act without him having time to consider all the facts. As this goes against his core values, the technician will start to feel resentment and frustration.

If the astronaut succeeds it makes the technician feel his value to the organisation is under threat. And if the astronaut fails, he again feels extremely frustrated – “If he’d waited for me, we would have succeeded!” For those in the manufacturing industry, that will sound like a familiar story. His needs have been suppressed and in the end, he feels powerless. This can inadvertently intensify the situation, upping the ante.

Now, neither person is better than the other and the important thing for businesses is to have a mix of these kinds of people. Too many risk-takers is dangerous, but so is too many number crunchers. You need both. And you need them working as a team.

We’re increasingly seeing this dynamic having a negative impact on business, especially in the manufacturing industry because of the need to deliver products at consistently high-quality standards, navigate end-to-end supply chains and manage strict time-to-market deadlines driven by demanding customers or seasonal demands.

Conflict in Manufacturing warehouse

So if you take the astronaut analogy, the morale will ring true for a lot of manufacturers. Pressures to get products to the market at the right time can be tremendous. But consumers are ruthless, and the kinks need to be smoothed out before a product hits the market. Having people butt heads over this is common. Even more so when a product needs to be fast-tracked.

Thankfully, for manufacturing SMEs help is available. European grants are available for businesses trying to grow to cover the costs of our corporate training sessions.

For many employees, understanding the different personal motivations can be enlightening. Once you’ve pinpointed your key values and your co-worker’s key values, you can tweak the way you express yourself at work to minimize the chances of conflict.

If the astronaut took a moment to talk to the technician he could use his emotional intelligence to try being more patient, ask more questions and explain why it’s time sensitive.

If the technician wanted to become more assertive he could say “I need a longer inception phase with some trial-and-error. Driving down risk and uncertainty early on can be a win-win for all parties and allow you to hit targets faster.” This way of communicating tells the other the motivations behind their point of view. Once you understand that, it can help reduce tension and you can work towards a mutual solution.

For an organization to be successful, the employees are required to work in harmony to achieve its goals. But humans are not machines. We have complex emotions that control our motivations and reactions.

Next Steps

Where there are people there are always relationships that can be improved. We can show you how to recognise a person’s key motivations so that you can not only spot potential clashes and anticipate conflict but also motivate each person to get their maximum output.

This can be extremely beneficial to manufacturing SMEs where lot’s of people are trying to prove their value and end up competing instead of collaborating. By understanding the strengths of their team skilled managers can focus on making a product that best meets the customer needs day after day. Faster, better, smarter.

If you’re managing a team and want to learn how to:

  • Identify and eliminate the causes of potential conflicts before they arise
  • Maintain your professionalism, even when others around you aren’t
  • Defuse challenging situation while remaining calm and in control
  • Get a grant to fuel future business growth


Featured Image Credit: https://anith.com/the-physics-of-spacexs-wicked-double-booster-landing/
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