Conflict Resolution

There will be times when somebody makes a mistake and doesn’t follow the Advice process, or follows the advice process but chooses to make a decision that will meaningfully move the work of another role backwards. Or there may be times when somebody stewarding a role is not performing the accountabilities described in the Role Interface, or the general responsibilities of a Role Steward, up to somebody else’s needs. Or somebody may be acting in ways that reduce Mutual Trust and Shared Vision. Or one person might simply be annoying another. More generally, there are many ways, small and large, for people to get into conflict.

Conflict is an inherent part of work, and therefore, resolving conflict is an important part of work.

In a traditional hierarchical organization, the typical way of resolving conflict is to escalate it to a manager. This, however, doesn’t allow people to exercise their own conflict-resolution muscles. And because of the heavyweight nature of this, it only gets used in the cases of conflicts that are large enough to be escalated to a manager, leaving many conflicts festering.

We see conflict as an important growth opportunity, both personally and organizationally. But the growth opportunity inherent in a conflict is only realized if the conflict is addressed. Further, while in a traditional organization, a manager has many powers — including decision rights, prioritization and resource allocation, conflict resolution — we wish to distribute these powers so that everybody has these rights in the roles that they steward. Both of these suggest decentralizing conflict resolution, so that as much as possible, people can resolve conflicts for themselves.

Doing so requires two foundational items. The first is a common language for conflict resolution, and common training in that language. Here we choose Nonviolent Communication. The second is a process; here, we choose a straightforward multi-step process. The first step is a direct conversation between the two parties who are experiencing conflict. If the direct conversation doesn’t resolve the conflict, the second step is a peer-mediated conversation. If that doesn’t work, the third step is a professionally facilitated conversation. And finally, if that doesn’t work, the final step is a mediation by the steward of the realm in which the conflict is occurring.

Therefore:

Make conflict resolution a natural part of work by giving a common language for conflict resolution, common training in that language, and a tiered multi-step approach that prioritizes peer conflict resolution over mediation by a realm steward.

Foster a culture in which direct conversations are used frequently and often, but allow people to skip steps in the conflict resolution process as needed (for example, skipping directly to a professionally-mediated conversation). Use Nonviolent Communication as a common language for conflict resolution. For cases in which somebody is clearly not performing the accountabilities of a role they steward, de-assigning or re-assigning roles through the Roles and Responsibilities process is a complementary way to address the issue.

Published May 5, 2019