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Conflicts between Staff and Line Managerial Officers (1950) Melville Dalton

The main aims of this article appear to be to investigate the conflicting aims of staff members and their middle line managers, and by doing so, to better define the causes of these conflicts, and the resulting conflicts within the working environment. The ultimate aim of this investigation and research would appear to be an attempt to reconcile these groups to each other, by demonstrating that the main functional differences were merely cosmetic, and thus improve relations between staff and their managers. Based upon the contexts of the period in which this piece was written: the demise of Taylor’s (1911) scientific style of management, and the ascendancy of ‘Human Relations’ management, pioneered by Mayo (1945), it could be hypothesised that Dalton intended his work to be used as a management tool, to help managers improve the relations with their staff.

The paper’s key argument appears to be that all of the “various functioning groups of the plants were caught up in a general conflict system; but apart from the effects of involvement in this complex, the struggles between line and staff organisations were attributable mainly to few reasons.” Dalton claimed that these reasons included functional differences between the two groups, differences in the age distributions, the degree of formal education both groups had received, the potential ceilings to promotion that both groups faced, the external and internal affiliations of members of the two groups, e.g. trade unions, and finally the need of the staff groups to justify their existence. The crux of this argument is that, although the conflicts appeared fairly fundamental, as they resulted from factors which could not be influenced, such as age distribution and formal education, they were in fact largely cosmetic, and could be avoided if both sides were sufficiently considerate of the other.

Dalton’s main data was gathered from research in three industrial plants, all of which showed conflict between the managerial staff and line groups that hindered the attainment of organizational goals. As a result of this, the other arguments claimed by the paper are focused on the attitudes which cause these conflicts. One argument was that attitudes among most of the high line executives focus on a hope that greater control of staff groups can be achieved; or that the groups might be eliminated and their functions taken over in great part by carefully selected and highly remunerated lower-line officers. This is a key point in Dalton’s main argument, as it reinforces his claim that line managers viewed their staff as being somewhat fundamentally different from the company officers, and thus placing officers in the same role would remove any problems. The other conclusion along those lines is that staff memb