ASB 3101 Human Resource Management - Answer

Conflict in group formation and Leadership: implications for HRM

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ASB 3101 Human Resource Management


Individual Reflective Essay


Conflict in group formation and Leadership: implications for HRM





Submitted by:




Sally Sambrook


[email protected]







Bangor Business School

College of Business, Law, Education and Social Sciences

Bangor University


1. Introduction

The purpose of this essay is to reflect on and evaluate two aspects of my previous experience(s) of group work and relate this to human resource management (HRM). The aspects I have chosen are: conflict during my group’s formation and my decision to not undertake a leadership role.


The essay begins with a focus on my group’s development and aims to explain and justify my performance during this activity, identifying both positive and negative aspects in order to learn from the experience.  While theories of group development are useful in analysing the situation, I have chosen to also discuss my identity and role as a leader. I believe that this is the most appropriate and useful facet of the experience for my personal development – and future employability and employment.  From a theoretical perspective, conflict is a major paradigm through which to make sense of work, organisations and HRM (Bratton and Gold, 2012, p.27). HR professionals have to deal with the consequences of any organisational conflict, such as within groups, through grievance and discipline procedures, for example. HR professionals also have a key role in identifying and developing leaders to enhance individual, group and organisational performance.


The essay is now presented in four separate but interrelated sections. Section 2 considers our group’s formation and development and the consequences of no individual taking on a leadership role. Section 3 is concerned with identifying what I have learned from this experience and detailing how I would act in the future. Section 4 focuses on identifying the impact that a similar situation may have on an organisation and the final section considers which approach to leadership may be most appropriate for dealing with group conflict. The essay ends with my conclusions and key learning.

2. Group formation and a leadership vacuum


In discussing my group’s formation and development I have drawn on a variety of sources – my individual reflections, the notes I made in my personal diary and conversations I have had with colleagues about the event both at the time and subsequently. However, I have chosen not to highlight the sources of my data in the following narrative as I believe that this helps to facilitate the flow of the narrative and thus brings the reader closer to the reality described – a desirable feature of qualitative work (Stake, 1995).

Figure 1: Stages of Group Development


Source: Adapted from Tuckman (1965)

Tuckman’s (1965) model suggests that group development proceeds along four stages as described above (Figure 1). I now describe my experiences at the different stages of this established model.


2.1 Forming

I was disappointed with the way the groups had been chosen, as there were other students I actually would have liked to work with.  I ended up working with the people who sat next to me.  During our initial discussions it seems that lines were drawn between the ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ as we launched into a discussion of the group assignment and the tasks that lay ahead of us.  I use the terms strong and weak not in the sense that strong is good and weak is bad, but in the sense that the strong people were more vociferous in class and our meetings, had more demanding part-time jobs, including greater responsibility and autonomy, and were older (perhaps the dominant coalition?) (Child 1972).  The other three were quiet, calm, hard-working and eager to agree.


2.2 Storming

As we tried to begin the project - working out what we had to do, and how to do it, tensions emerged within and between the sub-groups, I rebelled against one of my ‘strong’ colleague’s need for a rigid structure and several of us resisted taking the demands of the assignment seriously, as it did not seem particularly pressing:  9 weeks seemed too long for such a simple task. These differences of opinion resurfaced throughout the group assignment.


No leader emerged, we should have appointed one, and if I hadn’t been so selfish in wanting to be the creative, energetic one, I could have usefully played this crucial role. I also don`t honestly know whether I realised how upset I would be with the poor mark – or my guilt at prioritising my own desires to not lead in this instance, when clearly a leader was needed.


2.3 Norming

I don`t think we ever completely got beyond the storming stage, and although we tried to be polite at first, the earlier tensions remained and escalated.  I’m not sure that any ‘group norms’ emerged; I felt very little sense of group identity, and believe most of us worked as individuals.  When emotions ran very high, comments became nasty, opinions were dismissed and I felt we had to stop the meeting.  We just about patched up differences by the end of week 4, but in the weeks following this early incident I think there was little feeling of co-operation (Elgood 1990, p.159). We lacked open discussion of views and feelings, did not really listen to each other, and this could signify a lack of respect.  I feel a bit embarrassed to think I did not really engage in group work after this episode. 



2.4 Performing

I believe energy was never fully diverted to constructive attempts to complete the task:  a tense, frustrated atmosphere continued after reading week and decisions were taken quickly, agreeing with anything just to avoid discussion – arguably evidence of group-think (Janis, 1972).  I completely lost a sense of commitment or involvement.  The last phase of the project was achieved through feeble, and by that I mean unchallenged, compromise, resulting in a poor performance.  I think this was accurately reflected in the mark for the report.  I can almost accept the mark by distancing myself from the group project, and telling myself that the final outcome did not reflect my contribution or my ability, and therefore I should not feel as disappointed as I do.  But I feel terribly sad that I did not put more effort in.  I feel guilty that I lost my patience and interest and that I didn’t take on a more important role (i.e. as the group leader). This process of reflecting has caused me some pain, but I can learn from this experience.

3. Approach to leadership and conflict management


Reflecting upon this experience I have come to believe that there a number of areas in which I could develop. In this section I will focus on my approach to conflict management and leadership. I believe the experience I had during group work also serves as a cautionary tale, for future University group work projects and for my employment following graduation.


First, I analyse my approach to conflict resolution – and in doing so it is useful to draw on the work of Thomas (1976). Thomas distinguishes five broad approaches to conflict resolution along two dimensions: Assertiveness - how assertive each party is in pursuing their own concerns, and Co-cooperativeness - how co-operative or uncooperative each party is in satisfying the concerns of the other. The five approaches are detailed below (see Table 1):

Table 1: Five Approaches to Conflict Resolution




Likely Outcome


Achieve own objectives

The goal is important – and it is worth hurting a few feelings

You feel vindicated but the other party feels defeated and possibly humiliated


Avoid dealing with the conflict & situation

Disagreements are inherently bad –they cause tension

Interpersonal problems don’t get resolved – long term frustrations manifested variously


Reach a quick agreement

Prolonged conflicts distract people from their work and cause bitter feelings

Participants go for expedient rather than effective solutions


Do not upset the other person

Maintaining harmonious relationships should be our priority

The other person will take advantage



Solve the problem together

Each position is important although not necessarily valid. Emphasis should be on achieving the correct outcome through a fair decision making process.

The issue is likely to be resolved. Both parties are committed to the solution and are satisfied they have been treated fairly.

Source: Adapted from Thomas (1976)


Considering Thomas’s theory and my reactions to conflict during the group work assignment (as described in section 2) it is clear that I started out competing  but when this became personally upsetting I opted to avoid conflict instead – and continued to avoid and compromise throughout. While the adoption of an avoiding and competing style of conflict resolution did serve to avoid further open unpleasantness and hurt feelings, it did mean, as indicated, that the issues remained (and still remain) unresolved. As I believe the way in which conflict was managed in the group led to poor performance it is clear that the way in which we (and more importantly, I) managed conflict needs to change.


If I had been willing, I could have continued competing – and although (as highlighted in Table 1) this can have negative emotional outcomes for others, I do believe that my preferred approach to the assignment was best, and would have led to a high level of attainment for all. Alternatively, given the strong feelings amongst all parties, and the shared goal of achieving a good assignment grade it may have been more appropriate to collaborate: to determine a mutually agreeable solution which we could all ‘buy-in’ to and work towards.


Yet, these were both approaches that I chose to avoid.  The notion of making decisions and influencing others to fall in-line and of pursuing a collaborative approach strikes me as a task for a manager or leader: a role I was determined not to play.


However, now that a few weeks have passed since the event, the emotion that is most prevalent is guilt. I feel ultimately as though I prioritized my own desires and needs (to be creative, energetic and take-a-break from leading) over those of the group. While I don’t feel this is always a negative (or otherwise immoral) course of action it was in this instance (given the results) clearly not conducive to my own goals or the success of the group. By this I mean I didn’t manage to play the role I wanted – to be creative, energetic etc; I did not get to enjoy not being in charge and the group did not receive a good grade for the work. Bratton and Gold (2012, p.329) clearly identify the crucial role of leadership in the HRM-performance ‘black box.’ On reflection, I have learned that our leadership vacuum prevented us from realising our potential and achieving optimum group performance.


As for the future, I think that, when I feel I am the most able and capable, I should lead – it may not be what I want, but I think ultimately it may be best course of action for all involved. Yet, I wonder if given what I know now I would do anything differently if I had this opportunity again. After all, my failure in this group assignment has been a valuable learning opportunity.

4. The Leaderless Organisation...


Having described my experience and explained it with reference to a number of theories and determined the implications for my personal learning, I now consider the implications of my analysis for an organisation that is facing a similar situation. My own experience was deeply associated with an absence of leadership and so I focus on this issue.


While it seems somewhat trivial to argue that organisations will benefit from leaders and leadership, it is often argued that leadership is crucial to organisational success (Stodgill 1974; Harung, 1996; Kakabadse et al 2004; Hucyznski and Buchanan 2007; Avolio 2010; Tseng et al, 2010) and I do believe that the absence of leadership in our group led to us failing to achieve our best performance.


Moreover, I would expect that any organisation that lacked a leader would face the same consequences as our group. Indeed, one of the functions of a leader is to provide direction and vision for their team (Avolio, 2011) and an adept leader may have been able to utilise our personal, professional and ideological differences to create a dynamic and high-functioning team. As Holtzman and Anderberg (2011) highlight in their recent study, heterogeneous (or diverse) teams can add a great deal of value to organisations by optimizing efficiency, quality and innovation.


Thus, drawing on my experiences I would argue that the implications of unmanaged dysfunctional conflict (Mullins, 2007) in organisations may be - at the very least - a failure to realise the greatest possible organisational performance, the HRM-performance debate (Bratton & Gold 2012), and - at the worst - the emergence of counterproductive and dysfunctional behaviour from employees.  This would, in turn, require HR interventions, such as grievance and disciplinary procedures.

5. Which Leadership Approach?


Conflict can be beneficial to organisations (Mullins, 2007) but it needs to be managed and leadership is valuable for organisational success. In addition, leadership may also be useful in transforming dysfunctional conflict into functional conflict. Thus, it is necessary to determine the approach to leadership that is most conducive to these aims. 


Kent (2005) highlights that the study of leadership is a complex and somewhat convoluted area of research, with many scholars failing to find common ground; indeed, Crainer (1995) identifies over 400 definitions of the term leadership. Attempting to determine the most appropriate definition of leadership is beyond the scope of this essay, so I adopt Kakabadse et al’s (2004, p. 122) broad definition:


• Leadership is an influencing process;

• There are two or more people involved – a leader and one or more followers,

• Leadership occurs when people are trying to achieve given, implied or unconscious objectives.


There are multiple approaches to the study of leadership (Mullins, 2007). The styles approach to leadership focuses on “The way in which the functions of leadership are carried out and the behaviour adopted by managers towards subordinate staff.... concerned with the effects of leadership on those being led” (Mullins 2007, p. 366). Leadership styles can be developed through formal training and increasingly through coaching and mentoring (Bratton and Gold 2012).


The styles approach has become popular in recent years and the most popular theories that fall within this approach to leadership are those of transformational and transactional leadership (D’Alessio 2008). It could be argued that the popularity of these theories, which were pioneered by Burns (1978) and more recently developed by Bass (1985); Bass and Avolio (2004) and Avolio (2011), is due to their utility in organisations. This seems an intuitive line of argument and there is a great deal of empirical support: a number of studies highlight the benefits of adopting such a leadership style (see Avolio, 2010 for details). Moreover, even the most preliminary web-search reveals numerous companies that offer to train individuals in these leadership styles – perhaps making this a practical choice for HR professionals. Table 2 (below) highlights the central features of both styles of leadership:

Table 2: Central features of the Transformational and Transactional leadership styles

Leadership Style



A process of influencing whereby leaders modify their associates’ awareness of what is important, and move them to see themselves and the opportunities and challenges of their environment in a new way. Transformational leaders are proactive: they seek to optimize individual, group and organisational development and innovation. They convince their associates to strive for higher levels of potential as well as higher levels of moral and ethical standards.



Transactional leaders display behaviours associated with constructive and corrective transactions.  Transactional leadership defines expectations and promotes performance to achieve these levels: offering rewards for compliance and sanctions for non-compliance


Source: Adapted from Avolio and Bass (2004, pp. 95-96)


It could be convincingly argued that an organisation whose leaders adopt either of these styles may be successful in reducing dysfunctional conflict and promoting functional conflict.


A central feature of the transformational approach is to modify followers’ perceptions of what is important and thus, someone who adopts such a style may be able to steer their followers away from their competing positions and towards agreed goals and objectives. Moreover, since this style of leadership involves challenging followers’ ideas and ideals and stimulating them to be creative it could arguably help to generate the free flow of ideas.


Alternatively, the adoption of the transactional style, which involves defining standards and expectations, monitoring performance and providing rewards for compliance and sanctions for non-compliance, may be equally effective. Such a leader may be able to incentivise action towards agreed objectives (sharing ideas, working together) – and provide sanctions for the display of dysfunctional behaviours.  Indeed, rewards and reward systems often provide a valuable incentive for employees (Mullins, 2007).


However, perhaps the question should not be – “which style of leadership?” As Avolio (2010) highlights, both styles are important and should be used in conjunction with each other.  However, I argue that the adoption of any leadership style is better than none at all, and HR professionals have a key role in identifying potential leaders and developing leadership skills within an organisation.

5. Conclusion


Within this essay I have considered: i) my experiences of conflict during group formation and development, and ii) (a lack of) leadership within the group assignment, and iii) reflected on these experiences to determine the implications for my own learning. The key lessons learned are that it takes considerable effort to develop an effective group, and it is necessary to attempt to progress through the various stages (Tuckman 1965) to achieve ultimate performance. Conflict can be a significant issue within group work, and we did not adequately resolve this within this group.  In future, I would attempt to adopt Thomas’s (1976) collaborating approach to conflict resolution during group formation and development. A final key learning point is the need to consider leadership roles within group activity, and how leadership skills can be developed.  Having reflected on my own experiences, I have also considered the implications of my analysis for organisations. Ultimately, the same conclusions were reached: conflict can be positive - but it must be managed, and thus (at least) one individual must always be willing to lead. In any organisation, unresolved conflict and lack of leadership could impact negatively on performance and require considerable HR intervention.





All references should be presented in alphabetical order by author surname or organisation.


These are examples of how to reference …


A book:


Stodgill, R.M. (1974) Handbook of Leadership, New York, NY: The Free Press.


A chapter in a book:


Gold, J. (1999) Human resource planning, Chapter 6 In J. Bratton and J. Gold (Eds) (1999) Human Resource Management Theory And Practice, (2nd Ed.) London: MACMILLAN PRESS LTD, pp.


A book with three authors:


Kakabadse, A., Bank, J. and Vinnicombe, S. (2004) Working in Organisations, (2nd ed.) Burlington USA: Gower Publishing Company.



A journal article with one author:


Viitala, R. (2004) Towards Knowledge Leadership. Leadership and Organization Development Journal 25(6), 252-260.


A journal article with two authors:


Hater, J.J. and Bass, B.M. (1988) Superior`s evaluations and subordinate`s perceptions of transformational and transactional leadership. Journal of Applied Psychology 73(4), 695-702.



A web page:


MindGarden. (2011). MLQ for Leadership Assessment & Development. Available at:, Last Accessed: 31st July 2015





Any appendices MUST be included in this document, after References.  TurnItIn does NOT allow you to submit more than ONE document for this assignment.

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