Conflict Resolution

Long excerpt from Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations:

Several other organizations in this research rely on virtually identical conflict resolution mechanisms: first a one-on-one discussion, then mediation by a trusted peer, and finally mediation by a panel.

At first, I was struck by what seemed like an extraordinary coincidence. Before engaging in this research, I had never encountered a company with an explicit conflict resolution mechanism, and here I stumbled upon several organizations that had come up with virtually identical processes. In discussions with people at Morning Star, I came to understand that this process is about more than simply managing the occasional workplace conflict. Conflict resolution is a foundational piece in the puzzle of interlocking self-management practices. It is the mechanism through which peers hold each other to account for their mutual commitments.

In traditional companies, when one person doesn’t deliver, colleagues grumble and complain but leave it to the person’s boss to do something about it. In self-managing organizations, people have to step up and confront colleagues who fail to uphold their commitments. Morning Star and other self-managing organizations readily admit that this essential piece can be tricky to put in place and to maintain. The process is effective to the degree that there is a culture within the workplace where people feel safe and encouraged to hold each other to account, and people have the skills and processes to work through disagreements with maturity and grace.

Freedom and responsibility are two sides of the same coin — you can’t have one without the other (at least not for long). Holding colleagues accountable to their commitment can feel uncomfortable. A clearly outlined conflict resolution process helps people confront each other when needed.

The Hearts module exists to formally resolve behavioral disputes. Ideally, however, most conflicts never reach the point of requiring a full house decision. To keep conflicts from escalating, the following process should be used (ideas drawn from this book).

  1. First, the two residents having conflict should attempt to resolve the issue amongst themselves.

  2. If the two residents are unable to resolve the issue, they should recruit a third resident to serve as an impartial mediator to the dispute.

  3. If the three residents are unable to resolve the issue, then a challenge should be issued via Hearts to resolve the dispute in favor of one of the parties.

Tips & Tricks

  • Focus on the behavior, not on the person

    Making it about the behavior will allow everyone to view the situation with some emotional distance, making it much more likely all parties will be able to reach a compromise. When people feel attacked, it will be much harder for them to accommodate your request.

  • Wait a few days

    If you approach someone immediately after seeing / hearing a problematic behavior, you are much more likely to approach the interaction with a hostile tone (even if this is not your intention). If you see a problematic behavior, unless it is truly urgent, best to wait a few days to consider the best time & place to raise the issue.