PATHS TO HARMONY Working with Conflict among Groups Frank O’Connor NZ Psychological Society ~ Annual Conference 2009 Palme...
CONFLICTS WITH MAJOR EMOTIONAL AND COMMERCIAL ELEMENTS <ul><ul><li>Conflicts between two or more parties of disparate powe...
UTILITY OF APPROACHES <ul><ul><li>Theories and approaches designed to assist understanding and intervention are noted </li...
CONSEQUENCES OF PATH CHOICE <ul><li>Some consequences </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Choosing a collaborative path after failed ear...
“NOTHING WRONG WITH MY IDEA”
HEALING PUBLIC HEALTH <ul><ul><li>Two previously competing health service units, one publicly owned and the other from the...
A HARD POSITION TO MOVE FROM
PARTNERSHIP LUBRICATION <ul><ul><li>A dozen players: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>A District Council (as contract client...
AS LONG AS WE KEEP TALKING …
PUBLIC HEALTH REGULATION  DISPUTE RESOLUTION <ul><ul><li>The Minister of Health requested mediation services </li></ul></u...
GETTING MY MESSAGE ACROSS
PUBLIC WORKS 1 RELATIONSHIP BREAKDOWN <ul><ul><li>Shortfall in communication and ease around the delivery sought by both p...
PUBLIC WORKS 2 TANGIBLE INDICATORS OF DIFFICULTY <ul><ul><li>Contractor: increased staff turnover, especially in hard-to-r...
PUBLIC WORKS 3 RELATIONSHIP RESTORED <ul><ul><li>According to the client: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>“I’d like you to ...
TENSION PEAKS AT BREAKING POINT
TELECOMMUNICATIONS 1 NETWORK CONSTRUCTION <ul><ul><li>A three year $250M project designed and built a new telecommunicatio...
TELECOMMUNICATIONS 2 NETWORK BREAKDOWN <ul><ul><li>The partnership between the network owner and a key technology provider...
TELECOMMUNICATIONS 3 CRITICAL CARE <ul><ul><li>After extensive preparation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A two day conversati...
GETTING IT TOGETHER
CHILD YOUTH AND FAMILY 1 SERVICE NON-DELIVERY <ul><ul><li>Field service delivery performance being compromised by the appa...
CHILD YOUTH AND FAMILY 2 GETTING AROUND THE SAME TABLE <ul><ul><li>Negotiated attendance of key players at a workshop </li...
UTILITY RECAP <ul><ul><li>From participants’ perspectives </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Watch for their comments: they ba...
FAVOURITE REFERENCES <ul><ul><ul><li>Argyris, C. and Schön, D.A. (1974)  Theory in practice: increasing professional effec...
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090828 ~ O Connor ~ Conflict

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Paths to harmony: Working with conflict among groups

The benefits achieved through actual interventions are described from the viewpoints of those directly involved and of those sponsoring improvement. Conflicts having major emotional and commercial elements are considered, between two or more parties of disparate power. Issues addressed include goal and role confusion, responsibility overlaps or underlaps and process mismatches. Utility of some theories and approaches designed to assist understanding and intervention is noted: from participants’ perspectives, much theory seems unhelpful and the best approaches quickly change specific situations, issues or behaviours that exemplify the conflict. Their call for help seems better met by small changes now than by deeper analysis. Examples compare aspects of legalistic and other paths to improvement: one example reinstated harmonious working relationships in a health profession where the previous year had seen over $200,000 spent on lawyers without improvement. Some consequences of path choice, timing and extent of benefits are reported, as well as the impact of readiness, willingness and ability of participants: a brief intervention removed $100,000 in monthly cost in a three-party conflict around annual service contracts of $20M+, despite their failed earlier attempts to find an improvement path.

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090828 ~ O Connor ~ Conflict

  1. 1. PATHS TO HARMONY Working with Conflict among Groups Frank O’Connor NZ Psychological Society ~ Annual Conference 2009 Palmerston North, Aotearoa / New Zealand Developing Organisations & Leaders • Improving Business Performance & Management Moa Resources, 103 Overtoun Terrace, Hataitai, Wellington, New Zealand 6021 +64 21 386-911 [email_address]
  2. 2. CONFLICTS WITH MAJOR EMOTIONAL AND COMMERCIAL ELEMENTS <ul><ul><li>Conflicts between two or more parties of disparate power </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Issues addressed </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>goal and role confusion </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>responsibility overlaps or underlaps </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>process mismatches </li></ul></ul></ul>
  3. 3. UTILITY OF APPROACHES <ul><ul><li>Theories and approaches designed to assist understanding and intervention are noted </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Game theory </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Family therapy </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Motivation and efficacy work </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Group dynamics </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>But utility’s low from participants’ perspectives </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Watch for their comments: they balance effort with achievement </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Much theory seems unhelpful: it takes too long to see progress </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Specific situations, issues or behaviours that exemplify the conflict </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Examples compare aspects of legalistic and other paths to improvement </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Clients’ calls for help seems better met by small changes now than by deeper analysis </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Best approaches make change quickly </li></ul></ul></ul>
  4. 4. CONSEQUENCES OF PATH CHOICE <ul><li>Some consequences </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Choosing a collaborative path after failed earlier attempts to find an improvement path </li></ul></ul><ul><li>We’ll look at </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Impact of readiness, willingness and ability of participants </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Timing and extent of benefits </li></ul></ul>
  5. 5. “NOTHING WRONG WITH MY IDEA”
  6. 6. HEALING PUBLIC HEALTH <ul><ul><li>Two previously competing health service units, one publicly owned and the other from the private sector, were committed to a joint venture in delivering a range of community and public heath services </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>This joint venture could only succeed if longstanding differences in work priorities and operating style were resolved </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Levels of manager commitment varied, as some had not been involved in the bidding process that won the contract </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Aided participants in leaving past differences behind by clarifying common goals for overall businesses, objectives shared in specific service areas and operational issues to be resolved </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Assisted working parties in defining practice standards and work processes and then timetable tasks allocated to specific people so business as usual would continue during the transition </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Participants reported confidence in being able to advance with the agreed programme by the end of the planning workshop </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Follow-up over subsequent months reported regular achievement of standards </li></ul></ul></ul>
  7. 7. A HARD POSITION TO MOVE FROM
  8. 8. PARTNERSHIP LUBRICATION <ul><ul><li>A dozen players: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>A District Council (as contract client) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Their contract consultant </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Their lead contractor </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Expectations: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Client’s contracted deliverables </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Reasons deliverables were wanted </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>What would make achievement unacceptable—failure factors </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Perspectives from consultant then contractor </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Participants discovered their differences: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Much more on the things each group expected to achieve </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Not things they really needed to avoid (delays and death) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The similarity of these failure factors made it easy to agree risks </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>A clearly understood single page of tangible partnership objectives </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Aligned to the business goals and obligations of the three parties </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Says “What we want to happen” and “What we don’t want to happen” </li></ul></ul></ul>
  9. 9. AS LONG AS WE KEEP TALKING …
  10. 10. PUBLIC HEALTH REGULATION DISPUTE RESOLUTION <ul><ul><li>The Minister of Health requested mediation services </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>A protracted dispute between a health sector regulatory authority, the leading relevant professional association and the primary tertiary education institution providing professional training </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>The dispute had seen more than $250,000 spent on lawyers without improvement and was seen to be adversely affecting the profession’s ability to safely deliver its services to the public </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A process of structured conversations </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Enormous amount of getting ready to talk – confidence rebuilding </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Improved communication increased mutual understanding </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Participants’ relationship styles shifted in a constructive way </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Hearing all the grievances was crucial – action on each was not </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>In five months </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>agreed to leave the dispute behind them </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>forged a binding “Memorandum of Understanding & Commitment” (their choice of title) to guide their interactions over the years ahead </li></ul></ul></ul>
  11. 11. GETTING MY MESSAGE ACROSS
  12. 12. PUBLIC WORKS 1 RELATIONSHIP BREAKDOWN <ul><ul><li>Shortfall in communication and ease around the delivery sought by both parties </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>territorial local authority (asset owning client) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>commercial engineering service contractor </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Essential points of the commercial contract were being met </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Both parties agreed to assistance in clarifying the issues – is there something wrong with the contract? </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Survey showed their interface not working smoothly </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Many examples of good performance </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Expected work not being completed to mutual benefit </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Issues needing resolution not addressed fairly and promptly </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Some of the people, some of the time, just didn’t get on </li></ul></ul></ul>
  13. 13. PUBLIC WORKS 2 TANGIBLE INDICATORS OF DIFFICULTY <ul><ul><li>Contractor: increased staff turnover, especially in hard-to-replace experienced staff </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Client: increasing public concern about timing and quality of work, especially where it caused disruption to citizens activities </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Both: low confidence in the other group </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Small topics of disagreement were difficult to resolve </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Negotiations on substantial matters were stalling and inflexible </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Direct cost incurred by the ‘scrambling’: $100,000 per month </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Operating loss for the contractor </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Recurring rework and repeated communications for both </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Real money: “We could have used that time to do profitable work!” </li></ul></ul></ul>
  14. 14. PUBLIC WORKS 3 RELATIONSHIP RESTORED <ul><ul><li>According to the client: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>“I’d like you to meet our marriage guidance counsellor – he has saved our relationship” </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>According to the contractor: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>“The increase in understanding of the our needs and effort perspective was made possible by open discussion of business drivers and styles – we got listened to” </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Review after six months </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Client: happy with work quality, rate and style </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Contractor: Monthly commercial loss turned round and each month now showed a small profit, due in part to improved collaboration and in part to renegotiated rates for some work </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>All staff reported improvement in clarity of expectations and ease of getting work done – the goals of the intervention </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Discomfort remained in parts of the interface </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Awkward relationship remains – personality transplant? </li></ul></ul></ul>
  15. 15. TENSION PEAKS AT BREAKING POINT
  16. 16. TELECOMMUNICATIONS 1 NETWORK CONSTRUCTION <ul><ul><li>A three year $250M project designed and built a new telecommunications network </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Support was provided at the commencement of the project, with frequent refreshers, to ensure that the planning, staffing and focus of the joint project team was sufficient for the task </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Effort had been kept up to clarify evolving roles, responsibilities, management practices and key processes </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Many meetings between the partners were facilitated, to promote a united approach and to plan and agree on the actions and responsibilities for work programmes with high complexity or high risk of conflict </li></ul></ul></ul>
  17. 17. TELECOMMUNICATIONS 2 NETWORK BREAKDOWN <ul><ul><li>The partnership between the network owner and a key technology provider was suffering from exhaustion </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Much had been achieved </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Differences of opinion about work to be done and quality of work delivered were requiring more and more management conciliation </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Confidence between the two parties was falling as the public launch approached </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Conflict flared between the parties and the project leaders sought reorientation of staff to the task in hand, and a collaborative charting of tasks critical to the project’s completion </li></ul></ul>
  18. 18. TELECOMMUNICATIONS 3 CRITICAL CARE <ul><ul><li>After extensive preparation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A two day conversation involving seventy people </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Cleared the air – “Without prejudice” </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Refocused on the goal – shared and tangible vision of success </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Developed action plans through to operational completion </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Relationships were reoriented </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>capability of people valued – “We’ll only get there together” </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>technical failures and delays acknowledged and prioritised for fixing </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Reorientation held through to the completion of the project </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Launch was achieved on schedule within budget and without public problems </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>The project’s leadership was recognised by national awards. </li></ul></ul></ul>
  19. 19. GETTING IT TOGETHER
  20. 20. CHILD YOUTH AND FAMILY 1 SERVICE NON-DELIVERY <ul><ul><li>Field service delivery performance being compromised by the apparent inadequacy of information systems </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Technical review demonstrated that the systems were largely functioning as expected and the specialist team knew what they were doing </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>However, relationship between business management and the IT service team were characterised by buck-passing and blame-shifting </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Both parties believed they were being reasonable but the other party would not allow a compromise to be reached </li></ul></ul>
  21. 21. CHILD YOUTH AND FAMILY 2 GETTING AROUND THE SAME TABLE <ul><ul><li>Negotiated attendance of key players at a workshop </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Defined issues </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Agreed priorities </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Established joint action plans </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Documented responsibilities agreed </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Properly heard, both parties found more common ground than was expected </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Priorities were sorted out together </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Interface protocols were understood by “the little people” </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Food was enjoyed </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Monitored action plans for three months to ensure issues arising were addressed </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Resulting effectiveness improvements and consequent benefits in business performance were reported in a paper jointly presented by representatives of the delivery and IT teams at the annual conference of the New Zealand Computer Society </li></ul></ul></ul>
  22. 22. UTILITY RECAP <ul><ul><li>From participants’ perspectives </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Watch for their comments: they balance effort with achievement </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Much theory seems unhelpful: it takes too long to see progress </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Specific situations, issues or behaviours that exemplify the conflict </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Clients’ calls for help seems better met by small changes now than by deeper analysis </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Best approaches make change quickly </li></ul></ul></ul>
  23. 23. FAVOURITE REFERENCES <ul><ul><ul><li>Argyris, C. and Schön, D.A. (1974) Theory in practice: increasing professional effectiveness San Francisco: Jossey-Bass </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Argyris, C. and Schön, D.A. (1978) Organizational learning: a theory of action perspective New York: McGraw-Hill </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Leng, Russell J and Wheeler, Hugh G (1979) “Influence stategies, success and war” Journal of Conflict Resolution 23 p 655 </li></ul></ul></ul>

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