been percolating for a while before he arrived. (The good
news is that his employees talked to him about their concerns and he listened. That made him already unusual.)
After meeting with each of the people in the group
(including 20 employees and five supervisors), I collaborated with the manager to consider some next steps. I
heard the same thing from each person: the manager is
down to earth, listens, wants people to be happy, wants a
good work atmosphere, and is a good manager. (As conflict resolution professionals know, not every manager in a
conflict situation is described so positively.) Almost every
person in the group also consistently described behaviors
from two supervisors that were having a negative impact
on the group: yelling, derogatory comments about others,
not open to other views, having to be right, a “telling” style,
and constantly arguing with each other.
The manager and I agreed on several different initial
steps for the group to work together better: a mediation
between the two conflicting supervisors, a facilitated team
building with the manager and all five supervisors, conflict
management training for each supervisor, and possible
one-on-one coaching with the two conflicting supervisors.
Because the group of 20 works in a unique and separate
physical environment, I suggested that the team might also
explore deliberately creating its own culture to support a
more productive and engaged work environment. There
was potential for the group to clarify its mission, purpose,
roles, and acceptable workplace behaviors and other possible strategies to consider at the organizational level. This
escalating conflict required attention right away.
Helping the client with all these steps required someone with conflict management expertise to mediate,
facilitate with a contentious group, coach constructive conflict behaviors, and offer conflict management training. (It
also raises issues of confidentiality and impartiality if the
same conflict resolution professional offers all the identified services, which I will not address here. An experienced
workplace conflict resolution professional who provides
different process services can be a trusted resource for the
manager. Can an Organizational Development professional
do the same when there is an escalating conflict?
In a conflict situation like this group’s, I would facilitate
an intensive team-building meeting that includes creating
a safe environment, designing activities where everyone
gets heard, learning about different work styles, identify-
ing specific issues in the group, collaborating on solutions,
building consensus, clarifying acceptable behaviors for
this group, and making group decisions and action plans.
There may be many meetings. The meetings may be all
day. When there is a conflict to address, team interactions
may be unpredictable. The facilitator must prepare for and
orchestrate emotional expression and tough conversa-
tions, be skilled in surfacing sensitive and personal issues,
practiced in building consensus, and experienced in han-
dling whatever comes up.
I have heard OD colleagues talk about team building that
may include only style exercises or action plans. I have also
worked with groups who had previous team interventions
yet the real issues where not addressed and the conflict
continued to fester. Conflict management practice in the
workplace focuses on the underlying issues, because the
health of the organization depends on that.
So are conflict management practitioners also OD practitioners? Some are, and some aren’t. Not all conflict resolution
professionals have the expertise to recognize, assess, or
address organizational issues that go beyond the conflict.
Before calling yourself an OD practitioner, consider reviewing
the OD competencies. Do they fit? Do you subscribe to the
values and principles of OD? Do you need more training?
I recently read a report on Future Trends in Leadership
Development published by the Center for Creative Leadership ( www.ccl.org). The author identifies collaboration and
self-awareness as two of the key skills needed by future
leaders, and a rise in the need for collective leadership
and team capacity to adapt to future changes. Collaboration, interdependence, and influence will be more valued.
These are the currency of resolving conflicts and developing teams that workplace conflict resolution professionals
use today. They also reflect the key values described on the
OD Network website: respect and inclusion, collaboration,
authenticity, self-awareness, and empowerment. As I practice workplace conflict management, I use my expertise in
these areas and work with others to develop them.
In my own organization, few leaders talk the language of
“organization development”, but they are improving in recognizing an escalating conflict. When someone calls me to
assess and address a hot problem, it’s an invitation into the
organization. Workplace conflict resolution professionals
often have the values and skills to address current problems and work with clients to develop skills more deeply
for future needs. Are we working with our clients beyond
the catalyst conflict? Are we sharing our expertise with the
organization? Some of us are already doing it. Does it help
our clients, ourselves or our field if we think of ourselves, or
call ourselves OD practitioners? n
Not all conflict resolution professionals have
the expertise to recognize, assess, or address
organizational issues that go beyond the conflict.