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Overcoming Line-Staff Conflict

Line and staff, both are necessary for the successful functioning of an organization. Therefore, they should work together to enhance the smooth functioning of the organization. However, some conflict may arise between the two. Since the conflict arises either because of misunderstanding between the two or because of the organizational situations in which they are working, attempts should be made to overcome these problems and situations. In particular, attempts can be directed towards (1) understanding of authority relationships (2) proper use of staff (3) completed staff work, and (4) setting congenial organizational climate. 

Understanding Authority Relationships

The first basic approach in overcoming the problem of line-staff conflict is the proper understanding of line-staff authority relationships. This can be done in better way by following guidelines.

  1. Line people have the ultimate responsibility for the successful operation of the organization. Therefore, they should have authority for making operating decisions.
  2. Staff people contribute to achieve organizational objectives by making recommendations and providing advice in their respective fields. In some situations, they may be granted functional authority through which they can ensure that their recommendations are put in operation.
  3. Since in most cases, solicitation of advice and acceptance of that is usually at the option of the line people, it becomes imperative for the staff to offer advice and services whenever these are not solicited but staff feels that these will be helpful in arriving at suitable decisions.
  4. Banning few exceptional situations where time factor is of utmost importance for decision making, line should be impressed upon for compulsory consultation and giving serious thinking to the advice rendered by staff.
  5. Staff people should sell their ideas to line people. They should rely more on the authority of knowledge and competence rather than authority of position. 

Proper Use of Staff

Staff people are needed in the organization because line people are not able to solve the problems which require special knowledge and expertise. The effectiveness of line people depends to a large extent on how they make use of staff. For making proper use of staff, following points are important.

  1. There should be encouragement and education to line people as to how to make maximum use of staff effectively. Line people can not make use of staff unless they know what a specialist can do for them. Staff people also have responsibility to let line people know how they can contribute for the better performance of line activities.
  2. In order to make proper use of staff, they should not be kept busy in unimportant work because it does not serve any meaningful purpose. Instead, they should be assigned critical work in the area of their specialty.
  3. Staff people should be involved at the basic stage of planning of an activity, rather than when the problem becomes critical. When they are involved at the level of planning, many of the problems may not arise at all because care must have been taken against those problems.
  4. If line people have taken some actions directly affecting staff activities without consulting staff people, they should be informed immediately about these.

The information will help in removing misunderstanding, if any, created in the minds of staff people. At the same time, staff people will be informed about the actions going on in their area of activities and can pinpoint the drawback in action, if it exists. 

Completed Staff Work

Generally ideas staff arrangement results in completed staff work. Completed staff work is the study of a problem, and presentation of a solution, by a staff man in such a manner that all that remains to be done on the part of the line manager is to indicate his approval or disapproval of the completed action. The concept of completed action is emphasized because the more difficult the problem is, more the tendency is to present the problem to the line manager in piecemeal fashion. The completed staff work requires more rigorous exercise on the part of staff people but it results into two things. First, the line superior is protected from half-baked ideas, voluminous paper work, and immature oral presentations. Second staff people who can put forward their ideas in the form of completed staff work command more respect and value which help in getting their ideas accepted.

While making recommendations, staff people should study the problem carefully, listing all possible altema6ves and effect” of these alternatives of problem solving and clear recommendations for action. They should also provide how recommendations can be put into practice, get clearance from persons likely to be affected by recommended action, and suggestions about avoiding any difficulties involved. 

Setting Congenial Organizational Climate

Congenial organizational climate full of mutual trust and respect, self-restrain and control, coordinative approach, and mutual help is a vital factor for successful operation of any managerial process including line and staff relationship. However, two points that need special emphasis in this respect are: (l) recognition of line and staff as necessary element for organizational func6oning, and (2) recognition of need for change.

The first aspect is related to the fact that line and staff authority relationship lays the foundation for an organizational way of life. Staff is necessary to take the advantage of specialization. Line managers should recognize the importance of staff people. They should develop a feeling that staff people help in attaining organizational objectives. On the other hand. staff people must convince the line people to sell their ideas, rather than enforcing their ideas through the use of authority. The second aspect is related to the recognition of need for change and overcoming resistance to change. Managers in the organization, particularly line managers, resist change especially when new way of working creates initial problem. A recommendation from staff people means a change in the operation in some way. Therefore, there is a need for analyzing important factors underlying resistance to change and relevant actions to be undertaken. Normally a change is better accepted when it fits in the overall goals and interests of people in the organization and they are informed and consulted before the introduction of change. Therefore, change process should be such that it creates less offence. Staff people have to share the responsibility of bringing change in their respective areas without creating undue friction in the organization.