Conflict in the Manufacturing Industry

The manufacturing industry is chalk-full of passionate, hard-working, smart groups of people. Within these groups, there typically live two divisions of labor….the production work force and the client-facing sales force. Each group has goals, skills and knowledge and plenty of work-ethic to go around. 


Why then does there seem to be a common challenge between these two divisions? Why is unproductive conflict more common than not in manufacturing companies? Afterall, these are good people with good intentions, right?

According to Cy Wakeman in her article “The No. 1 Source of Workplace Conflict, And How To Avoid It” (Forbes, June, 2015), teams in conflict can create millions of dollars of loss for a business. When team morale is low because of conflict, there is lost productivity, lack of innovation and high turnover.  

Wakeman says, “Despite employee claims that it was largely due to personality differences or individual incompetence, we uncovered information that proved that –in most instances- those weren’t the primary culprits. In fact, teams in conflict had much higher levels of ambiguity in three categories of work: their team’s goals, roles and procedures. So, while it’s very human to assign personal motive and blame in times of trouble, there isn’t really anything personal about the core of workplace conflict. If you back up and look at the facts, a lack of clarity is what’s truly to blame.”

So, what can we do about it? We are scared to death of conflict. We avoid it all costs. What if we upset someone? What if it gets turned back on you? What if….What if…. What if…. 

But, what if it goes well and everyone gets stronger and works better together?

We believe, like Wakeman and many other experts in the field, that conflict is not inherently bad. Destructive conflict looks like gossip, lack of trust, a focus on people, insular work that is protective of self over company. Productive conflict looks like a focus on and open sharing of ideas, clarity of goals and process, and loyalty to to the team but not at the expense of the company.  

This problem isn’t unique to the manufacturing industry, however, it is more obvious. Because the two divisions, production and sales, are each working hard to create and keep up with demand, there is significant pressure to meet deadlines and goals. In the midst of this pressure, it’s difficult to find time to focus on the human part of the equation. 

We lay out three steps you can take to increase productive conflict. First, assess if your managers are all clear on the strategic plan and how their efforts tie together with it. Second, make it clear that getting to the goals laid out in the strategic plan are of higher important than howthey achieve those goals. Third, actively encourage disagreement with a clear intention to foster the best ideas from everyone. 

We know this sounds easier than it is. That’s where we come in. Through training and coaching, Blossom Coaching can be your partner in continuous people-development and productive conflict. When you invest in this critical work, conflict changes from a cost-center to a benefit-center. While destructive conflict shows up in silo mentality, disengaged teams, turnover, low trust and lack of collaboration, productive conflict creates cost reduction, improved customer service, increased team morale, higher productivity, new product development and strong employee retention. 

What is destructive conflict costing you? When you know it’s time to address the high cost of conflict, let’s talk. We know how to help you turn it around. We won’t promise that it’ll be easy, but it will worth it. 


Source: The Source of Workplace Conflict and how to Avoid it

Ariana Blossom