In my experience, the biggest conflicts I’ve seen in departments are due to a diverse set of personalities, not differences in race, gender and age.
For example, Bob is a 8 to 5 type of a guy. You could set your watch by his comings and goings. He believes that the only work that counts is the work done between those hours. If you are not at your desk you are not working.
Steve takes calls in the car. (Hands free, of course, we wouldn’t want Steve to be violating any laws.) He comes in when he comes in and goes home when he’s ready. Steve generally works from home for 3-4 hours a night, after the kids are asleep.
Jenny requires absolute silence to work. She can’t concentrate around other people and noise. She’s started to come in earlier and earlier to get things done when it’s quiet, but it’s no use–once others show up and start yacking away, her cube becomes unbearable and her productivity drops.
Tom is a music man. He needs to be listening to something in order to work. He loves to have his radio on and keeps it as loud as he possibly can.
Jose is a political junky. He reads all the political blogs and listens to talk radio all day. If you stop by his cube you are likely to get a lecture of some sort.
Candice is also a political junky, but on the opposite side of the spectrum from Jose. If they should happen upon each other, well, the rest of the department runs and hides.
Do you see where the problems come in? Bob complains about Steve–how can he possibly be working if he’s not in the office? Tom and Jenny are constantly at each other’s throats. “Your radio is too loud!” vs “I can barely hear it!” And well, Jose and Candice drive the rest of the office nuts and constantly complain about each other.
Other personality conflicts come into play as well. Does the boss like independent workers or needy workers? Given my personality, I would say, “duh, doesn’t every boss prefer independent workers?” But, I’ve seen bosses that don’t think you are doing anything productive if you aren’t constantly asking for help.
Sometimes people assign race or gender reasons to why they aren’t getting along with a co-worker. (She just complains about my music because I’m X and he’s Y.) Reality is, she’d still complain even if you were both X.
This is not to say that cases of racial or gender discrimination and prejudice do not exist. Of course they do. It’s just to say that other problems exist as well.
So, what’s a manager to do? Well, for one thing, get Jenny an office and Tom some ear phones. Or vice versa. Tell Jose and Candice to knock it off and leave politics for lunch and after work. Tell Bob to chill and Steve to get in earlier. Right?
But, then Jenny’s office makes everyone else envious. “Why does she get an office? We’re the same grade!”
And Jose and Candice both loudly proclaim that they are being oppressed because of their points of view. (Neither one recognizing that they have opposite points of view and are being given the exact same treatment.)
Bob and Steve? Both work best in their own environments. Why should Steve get in earlier? He’s working until midnight almost every night. Bob’s desire for strict schedules and guidelines also makes him an excellent quality assurance guy, which is what he is.
You still want to manage people?