A moderate amount of conflict is healthy for an organization when expressed productively. Optimum decisions are made when people can put disparate views on the table and have those thoughts considered in the final decision. Too little conflict within an organization can be perceived as the organization does not welcome disagreement or that it is not safe to disagree. Too much conflict within an organization impacts productivity and is indicative of an unhealthy work environment.
In a situation where an organization, or team within the organization, is experiencing an unhealthy manifestation of conflict or where conflict has ‘gone underground’, a workplace assessment might be appropriate. It may be apparent that conflict within the organization is diffuse and due to a variety of factors, some known and some unknown (picture an iceberg). By conducting a workplace assessment, the sources of unhealthy conflict can be uncovered and potential solutions can be devised.
Other times, the scope of the unhealthy conflict is unknown. For example, we have observed that sometimes a conflict can erupt between two or three people within the team. The organization concludes that mediation between these individuals would be appropriate and we have been brought in to mediate. In pre-mediation meetings it becomes apparent that the conflict goes well beyond these individuals and that a workplace assessment might be helpful to obtain an understanding of the core issues. Once the core issues are understood, meaningful interventions or changes can be designed to resolve these underlying issues.
In a workplace assessment, the dispute resolution professional develops survey questions in consultation with HR, the team lead, or other appropriate parties. The survey is designed to elicit the information that might be helpful towards improving the workplace atmosphere, such as identifying sources of conflict, areas of dissatisfaction and potential solutions. The survey is typically conducted anonymously via written responses, interviews, and/or focus groups. The neutral is responsible for administering the survey, compiling results, and providing written and/or oral feedback, including recommended solutions, to management. Then, it is essential for management to consider the recommendations seriously, implement workable and appropriate solutions, and report back to staff the measures that the firm will be taking based upon the assessment results.
Robin Amadei of Common Ground has conducted numerous workplace assessments over the past 20 years in the governmental, nonprofit and private sectors. To contact her, call 303-604-1960 or send an e-mail to RAmadei@aol.com.