Organization And Conflict Management In Nigeria: An Analytical Perspective

Dahida Deewua Philip (Ph.D)

Department Of Public Administration

University Of Abuja,Abuja-Nigeria

G.S.M. 08060366395



This paper specifically looked at organization and conflict management in Nigeria from

analytical perspective. Organization exists in every society and they are established to carry out

different functions and responsibilities to achieve certain goals and objectives. Human factor in

organization is therefore very critical and central to the survival of organizations. In Nigeria like

elsewhere, conflicts do occur in organizations in the course of management trying to implement

organizational goals and objective. Thus conflict affecting organizations can occur in

individuals, between individuals, and between groups. Conflict within work groups are often

caused by struggle over control, status, and scarce resources. However, in the Nigerian context

conflicts do primarily occur in organization as a result of cultural differences like religion,

ethnicity, tribalism and regionalism among others. The paper argues that conflict is not always

destructive; it may be a motivator to achieving success. When it is destructive, however,

managers or chief executives need to understand and do something about it in order to


strengthen and maintain the survival of the organization. The major recommendation made in

the study was that; conflicts should be resolved in organization through negotiation and

integration. Suppression of conflict through force as is always done in Nigeria should be

discarded in order to sustain and maintain good working relationships between management and

workers for effective conflict management and survival of the organization.


Organization is the most significant and integral part of administration without proper

organization, administration is not possible. Administration involves cooperative effort by a

number of persons to achieve certain objectives. It is a clear fact that a number of persons must

be organized so as to achieve the desire goal. They should work towards the same goal. This is

possible with the existence of an organizational structure wherein their energies are directed

towards a common goal (Ekhator, 2002).

It is in the context of running an organization that conflict arises. Conflict in an organization

therefore is inevitable. Most times conflict solves a lot of organizational problems if properly

managed. But if not properly managed; it can tear apart organization which is not healthy enough

for the survival of any given organization. It is against this backdrop that this paper interrogates

the management of conflict in organization in Nigeria.


Conceptualizing Organization

Urwick (1944) defines organization as determining what activities are necessary to any purpose

and arranging them in groups which may be assigned to individuals.

Barnard (1938) looked at organization as a system of consciously coordinated activities or forces

of two or more persons. Organization can also be described as the rational coordination of the

activities of a number of people for the achievement of some common explicit purposes or goals,

through division of labour and function, and through a hierarchy of authority and responsibility

(Schein, 1980).

In general term, organization is being looked at from three basic perspectives:

a) The act of designing the administrative structure

b) Both designing and building the structure and

c) The structure itself. It is an institutional framework where offices are designed and

functions and responsibilities defined.

Characteristics of Organization

Spiers (1975) identified five elements of organization as follows:

Membership: Most organizations comprise of a group of persons. Thus knowledge of belonging

is a necessary criteria and membership is nearly always voluntary, in that people are free to

withdraw except the state or enforced membership of a military organization.

Organizations are consciously purposive: Organizations are there to do something positive for

their members, for society, or for both. Political parties contest elections and try to get control of

government, business organizations produce goods, religious organizations save souls, and

minister to persons’ spiritual needs, etc.


Formal structure: A very prominent feature of organizational life is the phenomenon of formal

structure. Formal structure means the definition of functions in an organization and their

arrangement into a total pattern. The essence of formalism is that functions are defined primarily

in relation to one another and persons are considered as fulfilling these functions.

Value system or ideology: This means that all organizational life implies some reasonably

coherent value system. The existence of such ideologies is equally observable in administrative

and the political sphere. These ideologies affect the life and structure of organizations.

Corporate status: Organizations almost always have some legal status by which they can be

treated as social and legal entities, irrespective of the persons who might be said to inhabit them.

What is Management?

Generally, no management definition is universally accepted by management authorities and

practitioners. In fact many scholars have defined the subject based on their background and

environment. However, the following definition of management is considered.

Lawal (1993) looked at management as the process of making prudent use of an organization

resources in order to achieve the pre-determined goals. While Brech (1975) defined management

as a social process where in the social process consists of planning, control, coordination and


On the broader perspective, Stoner and Freeman (1992) defined management as the process of

planning, organizing, leading and controlling the work of organization members and of using all

available organizational resources to reach stated organizational goals.

Management is therefore an act of directing and coordinating both human and material resources

available in organization in order to sustain growth and development.


The implication of the above definition is that the management of organization’s human

resources also includes management of conflict in organization.

Conflict Management

Conflict management involves doing things to limit the negative aspects of conflict and to

increase the positive aspect of conflict. The aim of conflict management is to enhance learning

and group outcomes, including effectiveness or performance in organizational setting (Rahim,


Conflict management is something that companies and managers need to deal with. Conflict

significantly affects employee morale, turnover, and litigation, which affects the prosperity of a

company, either constructively or destructively (Lang, 2009).

From the foregoing, one can state here boldly that conflict management is an essential ingredient

for the survival of any given organization. However, the conflict must be managed in a very

positive manner that would encourage the employee’s happiness and productivity.

Causes of Conflict in an Organisation

There are several causes of conflict in organization: Rahim (2002) sum them up in the following:

a) A party is required to engage in an activity that is incongruent with his or her needs or


b) A party holds behavioural preferences, the satisfaction of which is incompatible with

another person’s implementation of his or her preferences

c) A party wants some mutually desirable resources that is in short supply, such that the

wants of all parties involved may not be satisfied fully

d) A party possesses attitudes, values, skills, and goals held by the other(s)

e) Two parties have partially exclusive behavioural preferences regarding their joint actions.


f) Two parties are interdependent in the performance of functions or activities.

In Nigerian environment, conflict can arise in organization for the following reasons:

a) Two parties fighting for a particular position that we termed it “recrutive position”

b) Managers are resisted when they try to bring positive change in organization that would

unearth unethical issues

c) Conflict arising from sharing of funds gotten from illegal or corrupt means

d) Conflict arising from employment in organization based on merit system. The

employment in Nigeria more often than not is based on religion, ethnicity or regionalism as the

system cherished quota system and federal character principles.

Models of Conflict Management

There are several models of managing conflict in organizations. But for the purpose of this

paper, we may consider only two models of conflict management

Mary Parker Follett Model of Conflict Management

Follett (1940) argues that for effective running of an organization, there is the need to resolve

conflicts within the organization. She therefore identified three ways of managing conflicts in an

organization. These are:

a) Domination

b) Balance of power

c) Integration

Domination: It is a situation whereby the boss occupies a position of supervision and forces the

subordinates to act in accordance to his or her wishes. This method according to her is not

satisfactory enough for conflict management.


Balance of Power: It is a situation whereby neither the boss nor the subordinates occupy a

position of supervision. Conflicts are resolved through bargaining and compromise. Conflict

resolution in an organization through bargaining according to Follett was not the best. This is

because; one of the parties or actors may not be satisfied in one way or the other.

Integration: The best approach to conflict management is integration. This is a situation where

decisions in conflict situation are reached through free contributions by all participants. This

would lead to a decision that will be mutually beneficial. This method does not take into

consideration the position of members in the organization’s hierarchy or the personality but on

problems to be tackled.

Rahim’s Metal Model

Rahim (2002) identified five method of conflict management in an organization. They include

the following:

Obliging: This is associated with attempting to minimize the differences and highlight the

commonalities to satisfy the concern of other party

Dominating: In this management approach, one party goes all out to win his or her objective

and, as a result, often ignores the needs and expectations of the other party.

Avoiding: This is a situation whereby a party fails to satisfy his or her own concern as well as

the concern of the other party

Compromising: It involves give and take where by both parties give up something to make a

mutually acceptable decision

Integration: This approach in conflict management involves openness, exchanging information,

looking for alternatives, and examining differences to solve the problem in a manner that is


acceptable to both parties, and examining differences to solve the problem in a manner that is

acceptable to both parties (Rahim, 2002).

In Nigerian situation, both the two models presented above are being used in management of

conflicts in organizations. However, domination has been the most effective means in resolving

conflicts in most instances in Nigeria. In this situation, conflicts are only suppressed for some

time and eventually over the time they reoccur. This also accounted for strike up on strikes in

Nigeria. This is so because managers used domination in suppressing conflict rather than using

integration approach in conflict management.

Steps in Conflict Management

There are several steps involved in conflict management. But our concern here is focused on the

five steps to managing conflict as presented by Maccoby and Studder as follows:

1. Anticipate – take time to obtain information that can lead to conflict

2. Prevent develop strategies before the conflict occurs

3. Identify – if it is interpersonal or procedural, move to quickly manage it

4. Manage – remember that conflict is emotional

5. Resolve – react, without blame, and you will learn through dialogue (Maccoby and

Studder, 2011).

Towards a Theory of Organizational Conflict

Organizational theories are many, but we are building our analysis on only one theory that is also

practically obtainable in Nigerian environment.

Maturity – Immaturity Theory

According to Maslow, Argyris, McGregor and Rogers, the major writers on the growth schools,

have assumed that there is a basic tendency in the development of the human personality toward


self-fulfillment, or self-actualization. This implies that as an individual matures, they want to be

given more responsibility, broader horizons, and the opportunity to develop their personal

potential. This process is interrupted whenever a person’s environment fails to encourage and

nurture these desires.

Formal organizations are rational structures that, based on their assumption of emotions feelings,

and irrationality as human weakness, try to replace individual control with institutional control.

Thus the principle of task specialization is seen as a device that simplifies tasks for the sake of

efficiency. As a consequence, however, it uses only a fraction of a person’s capacity and ability.

The principle of chain of command centralizes authority but makes the individual more

dependent on their superiors. The principle of normal span of control, which assigns a maximum

of six or seven subordinates to report to the chief executive, reduces the number of individuals

reporting to the head of the organization or to the manager of any subunit. Although this

simplifies the job of control for the manager, it also creates more intensive surveillance of the

subordinate, and therefore permits him less freedom to control himself.

Under such conditions, subordinates are bound to find themselves in conflict with the formal

organization, and some times with each other. They advance up the narrowing hierarchy where

job get fewer, and “fewer” implies competing with others for the decreasing number of openings.

Tasks specialization tends to focus the subordinate’s attention on their own narrow function and

divert him from thinking about the organization as a whole. This effect increases the need for

coordination and leads to a circular process of increasing the dependence on the leader.

They may respond to organizational pressures and threats by defensive or apathy, compromise

and gamesmanship or psychological withdrawal and day dreaming. All of this defense

mechanism reduces a person’s potential for creative, constructive activity on the job. Finally,


employees may organize unions or unsanctioned in formal groups whose norms of behaviour are

opposed to many of the organization’s goals

The conflict between the formal organization and the individual will continue to exist wherever

managers remain ignorant of its causes or wherever the organizational structure and the

leadership style are allowed to become inconsistent with the legitimate needs of the

psychologically healthy individual. Everyone recognizes the necessity for order and control. The

above discussions as regard to maturity – immaturity theory of organizational conflict is highly

applicable in organizations in Nigeria. In Nigeria, most workers place their personal fulfillment

above organizational goals and objectives. In the event that the organization tries to subvert their

in-ordinate ambition to the organizational objective, there arises conflict. In this situation,

informal groups abound in order to fight the organization. The ugly trend here in Nigeria is that

these informal associations are created based on religious, ethnicity tribalism and regionalism.

This also explains the reason why in Nigeria most conflicts in organizations are based on

ethnicity and religion apart from salary increments and allowances.

Concluding Remarks

Organizations are created to carry out their respective functions and responsibilities in order to

achieve organizational goals and objectives. In the course of implementing organizational

policies and programmes, conflict do exists. Some conflicts are personal, conflict within groups

and role conflicts among others.

In order to keep the organization moving and pursue the course of conflict resolution, the

management therefore is presumed to be guided by a vision of the future. The manager reflects

in their decision making activities, the values of the organization as they have developed through

time, from the original founder to the present top-managements personnel. In navigating a path


between the values of the organization and its objectives and goals, management has

expectations concerning the organization’s effectiveness and efficiency and frequently initiates

changes within the organization. These changes some times took place as a result of market

demand, technology, and political, social and economic environment.

We therefore conclude that even though organizations have several goals and objectives to

achieve but some times changes are introduced to achieve the stated objectives. Although

organization faces these demands for change through the men and women who make up its

membership. The interests of workers must therefore be taken into consideration when decisions

and policies for changes are taken in order to minimize conflicts in organizations.

Arising from the above discussion, one major recommendation that was made is that conflicts

should be resolved in organization through negotiation and integration. Suppression of conflict

through force as is always done in Nigeria should be discarded in order to sustain and maintain

good working relationships between management and workers for effective conflict management

and survival of the organizations.



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