In modern-day businesses and corporations, conflicts tend to arise inevitably due to power struggles, hierarchical positioning and personality differences, among other factors. Although common, work conflict is a pervasive and negative influence on the entire structure of an organization, causing harm to employees and employers, superiors and subordinates alike. In this regard, abundant research on leadership strategies has posited a number of ways in which to counter negativity in the workforce, improve team cohesiveness and contribute to work productivity in the process (Shetach, 2012).
This paper will formulate a comprehensive plan in addressing the conflict documented in the Wells Fargo Adviser’s article, a case that pinpoints the numerous problems that arise when personal problems are pushed aside and when major inter-personal conflicts in a team are ignored. In so doing, this paper will highlight the importance of theories such as the social interdependence theory (SIT) and the Personal Case Study Approach. Finally, this paper will demonstrate how assuming a leadership position in a work organization is a multi-faceted and often daunting task. Among other factors, a good leader must stimulate workforce motivation, commit to a team’s shared vision, and build teamwork from the ground up by promoting concepts such as team cohesion and team management at all times (Dionne et al., 2004), thus ensuring that conflict management will lead to strong work productivity and to satisfied employers and employees, leaders and followers.

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Problems at Wells Fargo: a representative case of inter-team problems
The Wells Fargo Adviser’s article penned by Michael Wursthorn (2015) paints a vivid picture of the common problems that arise when personal troubles are ignored and affect the team workforce. Mr. Samson, the overseer of Wells Fargo branches in the Chicago area, became justifiably worried when one of the complex manager’s brokers exhibited anxiety and adopted a cynical, negative attitude that affected the workforce morale. Unsure of where or who to turn to, Mr. Samson was relieved to notice a dramatic change in the broker’s general demeanor after he had visited a psychologist who had helped him identify the causes of such negativity and proposed coping strategies to deal with personal issues.

As Wursthorn is quick to emphasize, however, there are many problems that companies have to deal with. Firstly, many companies are not equipped with policies or models that can help them work around issues causing conflict and strife among employees. Secondly, today’s fast pace of work combined with lack of communication only heightens tensions among employees. As such, it is important to remember that conflicts are inevitable due to the very nature of human beings. Shetach (2012) defines conflict as “differences of opinions and/or contradiction of interests among two or more people, parties, or factors” and notes that politics and power play an essential role in highlighting differences among colleagues who subscribe to different genders, sexes, ages, etc. That being said, although conflict is unavoidable, there are ways to counteract the worst kinds of conflicts. Bearing this goal in mind, some adviser teams try to adopt proactive stances, setting up prenuptial agreements in case personal problems cause deep and unalterable splits among employees. That being said, it appears unlikely that a contract, no matter how detailed or policy-driven it may be, can ever totally foresee or predict weaknesses in teams or groups. As a financial-adviser recruiter from White Plains, N.Y., explained: “The businesses are too sophisticated and often too large to anticipate every problem that would arise” (Wursthorn, 2015). If problems between members are not addressed, counterproductive work behaviour, also known as CWB, tends to take root in any workplace (Kessler, Bruursema, Rodopman and Spector, 2013). In return, the mediating link found between CWB and inter-team conflict only fosters simmering negativity among team members and costs money, time and wasted energy to many companies. As can be noted, the problems that arose at Wells Fargo are hardly unique to the company in question. On the contrary, they represent a bigger problem that illustrates the complexities of dealing on a daily level with people with different agendas, different goals and different working strategies.

Mr. Samson would have done well to adopt and combine strategies from the Social Interdependence Theory (SIT) and the Personal Case Study Approach in addressing key motivational problems and inter-personal conflicts at the Wells Fargo company. This section of the paper will explore the value of each theory.

Social Interdependence Theory (SIT)
With respect to the Wells Fargo case, the Social Interdependence Theory (SIT) is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, De Jong, Leenders and Curseu (2014) posit that inter-social behaviour can foster better relationships and counter, if not neutralize, the adverse effects of spreading negativity through the workplace. Secondly, SIT promotes the idea that collaborative interaction among team members is likely to encourage joint goal achievement. Rather than focus on each team member’s problems individually, it is best to concentrate on challenges facing the team as a group. As such, SIT is a group-based theory that addresses how teams can work together to overcome their problems and develop team cohesion in the process. In this regard, Mr. Samson would have done well to bring the team together and to raise questions about how the manager’s attitude was affecting the team as a whole. Voicing concerns as a group rather as an assembled unit of individuals may have helped the team at Wells Fargo feel more united in overcoming their personal challenges. In other words, it is vital to contribute to a sense of team-building rather than isolate team members from one another.

The Personal Case Study Approach
In exploring the impact of the Personal Case Study Approach, Grant and Hartley (2014) posit that even short, two-day workshops like the one they conducted can help drive leaders and followers to make changes to how they achieve self-efficacy, motivation and transfer this newly-acquired knowledge back to the workplace. Although simple, the Personal Case Study Approach is quite effective in its theoretical basis: it articulates the understanding that coaches and leaders can do a better job of interacting with their teams if they focus on their own personal problems as well as summarize and share key insights into how to solve a personal problem at work. In other words: in order to help and lead others, one must firstly identify, correct and solve one’s personal problems. Understanding the self has been noted as a key tool in developing sound team-building strategies in numerous other studies. For instance, Kemp (2009) identifies introspection and self-management as one of the key elements in better understanding and in better solving conflicts among team members. Coaching and leading, further argues Kemp, should be seen as mutually beneficial roles wherein employers and employees embark upon a symbiotic relationship. In this regard, coaching is a more highly evolved form of leadership wherein employees and employers help and work with one another, not against one another. Bearing all of this information in mind, it only seems logical to argue that Mr. Samson should have adopted the Personal Case Study Approach in helping his colleague identify the personal causes driving his negativity before turning to industry issues.

In conclusion, the Wells Fargo case illustrates a troubling phenomenon that is occurring across the world, dogging employers and employees alike. Mr. Samson’s team would have benefited from a subtle combination of models that addressed the personal and group-based problems that arise in any work organization. Building teamwork is an arduous task but a necessary one which also fosters team commitment, contributes to an empowered team vision and builds team cohesion (Dionne et al., 2004), concepts which any modern-day leader/coach would do well to incorporate in daily interactions with colleagues, employees and employers alike.

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  • De Jong, J., Leenders, R., and Curseu, P. (2014). When Do Bad Apples Not Spoil the Barrel? Negative Relationships in Teams, Team Performance, and Buffering Mechanisms. Journal of Applied Psychology 99 (3), 514-522.
  • Grant, A. and Hartley, M. (2014). Exploring the impact of participation in a Leader as Coach programme using the Personal Case Study Approach. The Coaching Psychologist 10 (2), 51-58.
  • Kemp, T. (2009). Is coaching an evolved form of leadership? Building a transdisciplinary framework for exploring the coaching alliance. International Coaching Psychology Review 4 (1), 105-110.
  • Kessler, S., Bruursema, K., Rodopman, B. and Spector, E. (2013). Leadership, Interpersonal Conflict, and Counterproductive Work Behavior: An Examination of the Stressor-Strain Process. Negotiation and Conflict Management Research 6 (3), 180-190.
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  • Shetach, A. (2012). Conflict Leadership: Navigating Toward Effective and Efficient Team Outcomes. The Journal for Quality and Participation 35 (2), 25-30.
  • Wursthorn, M. (2015). Brokerages Try to Cope with Team Conflict; A Well Fargo Advisers manager called in a psychologist to help settle office strife. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from file:///C:/Users/OWNER/Downloads/Wells%20Fargo%20(2).pdf.