After reading this article you will learn about the reasons for line and staff conflict with resolution.
I. Reasons Given by Line Managers:
Line managers are responsible for ultimate results or goal achievement and, thus, give the following reasons for line/staff conflict:
1. Practical approach to the problem:
Line managers feel that staff suggestions cannot always be implemented as they do not fit in the actual operating design of the organisation structure. Their suggestions are often away from reality and practicability.
However, if the suggestions are accepted and the results are not as desired, the responsibility is shifted to line managers but if the results are positive, the staff managers claim merit for the same. Thus, staff managers do not have the responsibility but enjoy authority over the area where advice is sought. There is apparent mismatch between the authority and responsibility.
2. Encroachment upon line authority:
Line managers often complain that staff managers do not confine to offering suggestions only, they also try to en-roach upon line authority by telling them what to do and what not to do. They impose their ideas on line managers.
Staff managers offer suggestions even on matters which fall within the jurisdiction of line managers and on which no suggestions have been asked for. Line managers feel they spend so much time discussing these issues with staff managers that they cut time from operating their line departments.
3. Lack of overall vision of the organizational problems:
Staff managers are often convicted of the fact that they lack insight into the actual problems of the organisation. They have knowledge in their specialised area of interest which may not be of help to line managers in relation to goals of the organisation.
Staff managers are not aware of the practical problems regarding implementation of their suggestions. Though their recommendation may be good, but they may not be feasible and practical.
4. Age considerations:
By the time line managers reach the top positions, they are experienced to look into organisational matters. Staff, on the other hand is usually dynamic, young, probably fresh MBA graduates who are enthusiastic in their approach towards the organisational operations. Line managers blame the staff as lacking practical experience while staff blames line for not trying the ideas proposed by them.
II. Reasons of Conflict Given by Staff Managers:
Staff managers view the problem in a different perspective and offer the following arguments that result into line-staff conflict:
1. Absence of motivation:
Staff managers plea that suggestions offered by them are not implemented by line managers and, therefore, they lack motivation to give suggestions. In most cases, line managers may ask for suggestions but they have the right to accept, reject or amend the suggestions.
This gives them prerogative over staff managers and they do not give due regard to staff suggestions. Sometimes, they do not even ask for suggestions but when something goes wrong, they lay the blame on staff managers for either being complacent in the matter concerned or giving impractical suggestions.
2. Resistance to change:
Irrespective of the age considerations, staff managers feel their ideas are innovative and require new learning of concepts and processes by line managers. Since line managers do not easily accept change in their thinking and operating procedures, they do not welcome the ideas given by the staff.
3. Lack of authority:
Staff managers feel that they should have authority to get their ideas implemented. If they are asked for expert advice, they should even have the authority to get their advice accepted. Line managers take the credit for implementation if the staff advice bears fruitful results. There is no motivation to give suggestions if they have no authority over their acceptance/implementation by line managers.
4. Call for help:
Staff managers sometimes complain that line managers approach them with the problem after the situation becomes difficult to manage. Suggestions or advise in such a situation may not be effective. Staff should be consulted time to time, in fact, during the planning phase of the organisational task and not when problems arise in carrying out the task.
5. Staff advise is sought for as a last resort:
Staff specialists often blame line managers for not seeking the advise on a continuous basis. They feel that line managers ask for their advise only as a ‘last resort’, when no other way of solving the organisational problems seems practical to them.
III. Nature of Relationship Between Line and Staff Managers:
Line and staff managers hold different positions in the organisational hierarchy and also have different perspectives towards the same problem. This often results in line-staff conflict.
1. Attitude of line and staff:
The attitude of line managers is action-oriented i.e., they want results out of subordinates. They often have short-sighted approach and want easy solution to the problems. They have positive attitude towards the organisation.
Staff managers, on the other hand, analyse the problem before jumping to conclusions, have a far-sighted approach towards the problem, analyse all possible solutions to the problem before arriving at a decision (time and money are not constraints for them to arrive at a decision) and often have critical attitude towards the organisation. Thus, different ways of looking at the same problem may result in conflict between line and staff managers.
2. Ultimate responsibility:
Staff performs only advisory functions. Actual implementation of the advise is the task of line managers. The results are also the ultimate responsibility of line managers. If the plans fail, line managers put the entire blame on staff managers that the plans have not been properly framed and staff managers, in turn, put the blame on line managers that the plans have not been implemented properly.
The approach or orientation of line and staff managers towards each other results in conflict of thoughts and action.
Reasons for line-staff conflict are mentioned below reflecting the attitudes of line managers and staff specialists:
1. They deal with the organisation as a whole and, therefore, are highly protective of the organisation.
2. Since they hold ultimate responsibility for organisational decisions, they generally want simple and easy solutions to solve the organisational problems.
3. They often have a short-sighted approach towards organisational problems.
4. They are accused of asking wrong questions at the wrong time.
5. They are highly action-oriented and want immediate and easy solutions to the problems.
6. They feel staff members lack experience to work in functional areas.
1. They are specialists in their areas of experience; do not view the organisation as a whole; are often critical of the organisation.
2. They study the problem in depth before making recommendations, arrive at all possible solutions to the problem, analyse their pros and cons and arrive at the most feasible solution. In this process, they offer solutions which line managers feel are complicated to be implemented.
3. Their approach towards the problem is often far-sighted and has a long-range orientation.
4. They are accused of giving wrong answers as they do not relate these answers to the overall organisation structure.
5. They are highly analytical, thought-provoking and have a far-sighted approach towards the problem and, therefore, arrive at solutions after spending enough time in studying and analysing the problem.
6. They feel that line managers do not try new ideas and prefer to work with the existing knowledge.
From the view point of line personnel, conflict is created because staff personnel tend to:
a. Assume line authority,
b. Do not give sound advice,
c. Steal credit for success,
d. Fail to keep line personnel informed of their activities,
e. Do not see the whole picture.
From the view point of staff personnel, conflict is created because:
a. Line personnel do not make proper use of staff personnel,
b. Resist new ideas,
c. Refuse to give staff personnel enough authority to do their jobs.
Resolution of Line and Staff Conflict:
The following measures can improve the line and staff relationships:
1. Clear understanding of the authority-responsibility structure: A clear understanding should be developed among the line and staff managers that accomplishment of organisational objectives is the responsibility of line managers and staff is only to provide advisory functions to the line.
Both line and staff have authority to discharge their respective functions though the authority differs in nature. Staff should understand that they have authority to make decisions but do not have authority over line managers. They can only persuade line managers to accept their decisions but not order for their implementation.
2. Timely assistance:
Line managers should seek assistance from staff in time and not after the problem becomes difficult to be rectified. Staff should be involved at the planning stage of activities so that problems related to their specialised areas do not arise at all.
3. Emphasis on interdependence:
Though line managers can reject the advise of staff managers, both line and staff must realise that they are complementary to each other and will continue to need each other’s help. In case staff advice is not acceptable to line managers, reasons should be explained to staff specialists rather than outright rejection of their advice. Staff people should also understand the restrictions that line managers face in accepting their advice.
4. Patient hearing:
Line managers should spend time with the staff, give them a patient hearing and arrive at the best solution to the problem. It has been found that plans made by line managers in consultation with staff specialists are more readily accepted by the top managers than those where staff involvement is minimal.
There should be regular flow of information between line and staff managers so that whenever the staff senses a problem, it offers suggestions to line managers without being actually called to do so. Staff should offer suggestions knowing the fact that line managers can reject or amend them. They should work in the interest of the organisation rather than making issues related to ego problems.
6. Completed staff work:
It is a technique where staff specialists do the complete task of finding the problem, analysing it, thinking of alternative solutions and arriving at the best solution through their scientific judgment and analysis. They work on the problem without discussing it with line managers. Thus, line managers save time on continued discussions and meetings and get the draft solution to the problem.
The entire project of analysing the problem and presenting a solution is taken care of by the staff specialists without bothering the tine managers. Such a technique justifies the staff existence and motivates them to think of the best solution to the problem.
The complete task of studying the problem, listing alternative solutions, their effect on the organisational activities, methods of implementation, acceptance of those who are likely to be affected by implementation of suggested recommendations, suggesting ways to overcome the problems in implementations; is done by the staff. Line managers, of course, may or may not accept the solution; though, in most situations, such solutions are accepted by them.
The staff should understand that since ultimate responsibility for goals is that of line managers, they may be little apprehensive about implementing staff suggestions every-time they are offered. Staff should be tolerant to appreciate the apprehension of line managers rather than feel offensive.
Forming committees of line managers and staff specialists helps in improving line-staff relationships. Line and staff managers collectively work on the problem situation, understand its implications and arrive at mutually acceptable solution.
9. Appreciate each other’s view-point:
As much as possible, line and staff should appreciate each other’s view point. Line managers should appreciate that staff advise will be of help to them and staff specialists should appreciate that if their advise is not acceptable to line managers, there must be sufficient reasons for it.
10. Nature of relationship:
Line managers who use staff services and staff specialists who provide such services should understand the nature of relationship that exists between them. Staff should understand that line managers are accountable for the end results. Therefore, they should have the authority for making the final decisions.
11. Educate line managers:
Line managers should understand what staff specialists can do for them. They should make maximum use of staff and assign them important tasks in their areas of specialisation. Line managers should be open to change. They should be ready to learn new concepts, theories and processes if staff suggestions are beneficial for the organisation.
In the large and complex organisations that operate in the dynamic environment, not having line and staff relationships is not an option. It is the world of specialisation and line managers cannot even think of performing well without staff assistance. The distinction between line and staff does not have any practical utility.
The contemporary organisations are functional organisations (based on functional relationships) which talk all about staff assistance. Every manager having specialised knowledge in his area of expertise has authority over all others in the organisation. This is not an option but a necessity. More than who is line and who is staff, everyone needs the assistance of the person who has specialised knowledge of the operation concerned.
The relationship amongst production, marketing, legal, accounting, research and development, finance, personnel etc. are so highly interdependent and complex that the line of demarcation between line and staff gets very thin. Also, same manager can perform the line, staff and functional activities. One cannot exist without another.
Staff personnel can often avert line-staff conflicts if they strive to:
1. Emphasize the objectives of the organisation as a whole.
2. Encourage and educate line personnel in the appropriate use of staff personnel.
3. Obtain any necessary skills they do not already possess.
4. Deal intelligently with the resistance to change rather than view it as an immovable barrier.
5. Line personnel can do their part to minimize line staff conflict by using staff personnel wherever possible.
6. Make proper use of the staff abilities.
7. Keep staff personnel appropriately informed.