Addressing Conflict at its Roots

Commonly, organizations that I have worked with have tried to address issues in isolation of the greater context.  They report having some short-term improvement but are unable to sustain improvements that endure and struggle to understand the cycles of unsatisfactory solutions they continue to experience.  Even when they are doing the ‘right things’ such as engaging with mediation services to address conflict, mandating leadership training with all the latest and proven approaches, implementing the latest HR systems, they are still not seeing the results they expect.  It is because they are attempting to solve problems in isolation of each other, without a connection to the larger organizational plan, sometimes in absence of having an organizational plan at all, and they are not achieving desired results.  Band-aid solutions without addressing underlying causes and without understanding how one part of the system affects another will not yield sustainable results.


A great example of this was an organization who contacted me for conflict resolution services to address an official complaint to the employee union which was based in a conflict between the relatively new director with a manager and several other staff in various roles.  They had been through a recent mediation process but had not seen lasting improvement.  In fact, good staff had left the organization.  Morale, employee engagement and performance were all suffering at a time when the organization itself was embarking on exciting new programs and meeting growth goals in other areas of the operations.  On the surface it appeared to be strictly an interpersonal problem.  After conducting my initial workplace discovery phase, it was apparent that the conflict itself was just a symptom of some more pervasive system issues. My analysis outlined the areas that needed addressing including strategic direction, board and organizational structure, team dynamics, and HR capacity to implement employment standards in a newly unionized environment.  My recommendations which outlined both the purpose and expected outcomes did include some mediation services but not as the primary or only solution.  Before mediation could be effective and before those involved could hope to trust in a mediation process, it was important to demonstrate to the employees that all of the issues were being taken into account as part of the larger system in which they operated and for them to understand that much of what they were attributing to interpersonal issues were in fact, the result of problematic operational dynamics.  My recommendations included tactical plans to connect employees to strategic plans, improve HR policies and practices in the areas of performance management, role clarification, and employment standards, increase leadership effectiveness through coaching to repair relationships and rebuild trust, development for leaders and staff to improve employee effectiveness, and finally, to use conflict resolution to address the team dynamics.  Only when all parts of the larger system were addressed was a lasting solution possible and sustainable.