Enforcing decisions during conflict within start-up leadership won’t work, says research

Enforcing decisions during conflict within start-up leadership won’t work, says research

Openly discussing and then enforcing decisions doesn’t help to resolve stalemate conflicts among senior executives at start-ups, new research from ESSEC Business School finds.

Despite scholars and consultants traditionally considering open discussion led by the CEO, as well as decision enforcement from the CEO, as the way to move forward, the study finds these methods to be either ineffectual or not used at all.

By analysing 21 top management team stalemates in four Hong Kong fintech ventures, Professor Sam Garg from ESSEC, alongside CJ Rhee, a PhD Candidate at HKUST Business School, investigated how venture leaders manage stalemate conflicts amongst senior executives.

According to Garg, when conflicts arise in fast-growing start-ups amongst senior leadership, they typically take the form of paralysing communication breakdowns between parties influenced by specific tasks.

“When senior leaders throw up their hands and do not want to collaborate, this is highly debilitating in organisations. Venture leaders need to jump in, otherwise the organization is paralysed,” says Garg.

His study revealed that of the 21 cases assessed, venture leaders used the following methods to manage conflicts: private mediation, structural crafting and open discussion.

He then broke these down into groups, horizontal or vertical stalemates. He discovered that whilst private mediation worked for horizontal stalemates, it was ineffective for vertical stalemates. Meanwhile, structural crafting worked for vertical stalemates but was ineffective for horizontal stalemates. Open discussion, meanwhile, was ineffective for all types of conflict.

According to Garg, while it may feel natural for leaders to want to talk through the problem, and then force a decision, it will do nothing to resolve conflicts at this level.

Garg also said “We find open discussion and decision enforcement by the venture leaders – two actions suggested in prior conflict management literature – to be ineffective for all types of stalemates in our data. Beyond venture professionalisation, our research offers a fresh lens on conflict management as brokering by highlighting the space and hierarchy in the brokering process.”


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