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Managing Conflict: How To Balance a Multi-Cultural Advertising Department

by Lynne
(Atlanta, Georgia, United States)

My Question Is...I am a marketing manager for a mid-size advertising agency based in Atlanta, Georgia. My current responsibilities involve overseeing the agency's minority client campaigns. Because of this,

I have a very culturally diverse staff. Although things in my department initially started out very smoothly, over the past year however I have begun to notice a lot of tension between my marketing vice president and creative director.

As background, my creative director is Hispanic and my marketing vice president is African-American.

Since they come from two different cultural backgrounds, they often clash and have disagreements about what strategies should be used for specific campaigns.

The tension and disagreements between these two individuals, has really started to affect my department's overall work performance.

This has included missing important client deadlines, and also some younger staff members feeling that they have to choose sides.

One of the ways I have tried to address this issue, is by hosting a series of in-house diversity seminars. Although these seminars have produced some short term results, I still need a more effective long term solution.

At this point, I would appreciate any advice or assistance regarding potential solutions or ideas.


Hey Lynne, You know you have a problem when client deadlines are missed! In my view, there are Three Action Steps you can take:

  1. Seperate out all of the issues that could be causing the program (yes, diversity may be a part of it, but what else is in the way?)

  2. Resolution discussions you hold

  3. Teaching the team how to discuss differences and make decisions

For #1: Seperating Out All of the Issues:

You may already be considering this - but usually when there's a "Diversity/Communication Problem" (anything that sounds big and sort-of ambiguous) there's more than one issue involved.

Seperating out, and addressing, ALL of the issues that are causing the problem can help you come up with a multi-prong approach that will actually evolve the team and resolve the issue.Think about ALL of the answers to this question,"What's your 'evidence' of a communication/diversity problem?"

Based upon the information you shared in your Post--some answers will include: missed deadlines, arguments between team members, but:What else can you add the list of "evidence"? You may find that your "evidence" reveals much more a 'diversity' issue.

In fact, in different research I've seen --- 98% of the time conflict is about two things:
  1. Disagreement over Objectives (the destination)
  2. Disagreement over Alternatives (agree on destination, just disagree on the which route to take)

Notice that personality has NOTHING to do with most conflict, BUT we often tend to assume it's a personality "thing". If we get too focused on it being a personal problem, we turn it into a personal battle, without meaning to.

Turning the majority of your focus on "the work" - will help you avoid this.

For #2 : Resolving Conflict Discussions and Helping the Team

Having discussions with these two team members, something you initiate and facilitate (don't worry, I outline all of the steps you'll need to take, here) will help them clear the air, and create new working agreements and guidelines.

Review my Conflict Resolution Steps a Free Video Program that I put together on my website.

On this Page: Watch the videos and also use the conflict resolution worksheets and look at the Why I Hate Meetings article link. (Tips in that article for Team Guidelines.) All of which will help you lead and guide the group to more productive "conflict" and discussions.

Focus on these three steps: 1) Separate out the issues, 2) facilitate conflict resolution between the two members and 3)develop team skills for discussions and decision-making.

I hope this helps you and your Team!

All the Best, and More!

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