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Author: Frank Lucer

Every organization copes with internal staff-related conflict. Sometimes, employees are entrenched within well-worn habits and approach any notion of change warily. Other times, department heads might struggle to maintain - or even usurp - control from each other. Still others are embroiled in company politics, vying for the spotlight and willing to sacrifice organization-wide goals in the process. Each of these dynamics represents a challenge to the success of a Six Sigma project.

While many people believe that Six Sigma is entirely focused upon analyzing data and quantifying inputs, it expands much further. It recognizes the importance for open communication between all workplace staff. It encourages active participation from employees, including coordinating information flow between departments. Below, I'll explain how employee conflict can impact the deployment of a Six Sigma initiative. We'll explore the effects of staff resistance to change, company politics, and even personality conflicts.

Resisting Change

It's not uncommon for employees to grow accustomed to a certain way of doing their jobs. There's a feeling of security and familiarity that grows over the years. The problem is that most processes are riddled with inherent inefficiencies, many of which are all but invisible to the staff. The purpose of a Six Sigma project is to identify inefficiencies and bring about change to a given process. That promise of the initiative can cause an organization's staff to dread its implementation. After all, any level of change suggests that they'll be forced to venture outside their comfort zones.

It's the responsibility of the project team to communicate the goals of the initiative. That includes getting the top management to "buy in" and openly convey their support as well as communicating with employees at every level within the organization. Most people fear change in the workplace because it introduces uncertainty. The Six Sigma team can help dispel that uncertainty and reduce staff resistance to the project through open communication.

Organization Politics

Encouraging staff participation introduces another challenge. Each person - including those on the project team - will have opinions regarding the best path to implementation. Opinions should be encouraged, of course; often, they can yield surprisingly insightful solutions. That said, employees within an organization will occasionally take that opportunity to secure some level of control of the project.

Existing company politics can exacerbate this problem. For example, department managers who crave the spotlight can actually impede a successful Six Sigma deployment by causing delays and resisting steps to implementation. Gaining the support of a company's top level of management (including the CEO) is critical to navigating these political struggles while deploying the initiative.

Personality Conflicts

Besides resistance to process change and organization politics, some employees will simply not get along with others. Some will avoid working with those against whom they hold grudges; some will passively sabotage the efforts of others. Personality conflicts are common in all organizations. But, they can severely impact a Six Sigma project. The success of the project depends largely on staff participation and communication. That often requires the coordination of efforts between those who might otherwise not work well together.

Personality conflicts among the staff can only be managed, not resolved, by the Six Sigma team. This is another challenge in which having the unwavering support of top management can be crucial. In most cases, the clear expression of expectations from top managers will supercede the conflicts that exist between individual employees.

Successful Deployment

Every initiative will confront some level of staff conflict. It may manifest as a strong resistance to process change, existing office politics, or personality differences. In each case, the project team must openly communicate the goals of the initiative with all employees throughout an organization. They must also gain the resolute support of the top managers. In doing so, the Six Sigma team will be better able to manage the conflicts that they're certain to confront.

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About the Author

BMGI, a leading education and consulting firm in the black belt six sigma education field regularly posts information on six sigma at


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