We are based in Kansas City, Missouri. We have two partners, two associates, 5 staff members, and have been together for 6 years. The firm is the result of a merger of each of the two partner's practices a few years ago. The integration has not gone well. We are quite polarized. Each partner operates as a separate island, does his own thing without regard for the other partner, and staff follow suit. Each partner has very different practice values, approaches to practice, and goals. Conflict has escalated to the point when productivity and profitability has suffered and everyone is miserable. Would you share your thoughts?
Conflict is not always bad – sometimes conflict can actually be productive if it can be effectively managed. Destructive conflict on the other hand can destroy a small law firm. I often try to look at conflict from both a micro and macro point of view.
From a micro perspective I would look at the individuals themselves. Are their personalities compatible? Do each of the partners have the same vision for the firm and share similar core values, propensity for risk taking, need for control and tolerance for ambiguity?
From a macro perspective I would look at some of the organization and structural characteristics of the firm. This might include internal communications systems, interdependence of work tasks, clarity of job roles and responsibilities in the firm, decision-making, resource sharing, etc. Often people are stepping over each other and if we change some of the structural elements we can resolve the source of the conflict.
It is easier to fix and resolve macro level conflict than micro – individual – personality caused conflict. Your situation sounds like micro – individual – personality caused conflict and general incompatibility. Unless your firm wants to operate as a "long ranger" firm operating essentially as independent practices you may want think long and hard if it makes sense to continue the partnership.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC