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Business - Written by on Tuesday, December 1, 2009 0:27 - 11 Comments

Marilyn Davison
Enhancing enterprise collaboration: the role of conflict and mediation

Marilyn, an Engagement Director for nGenera, has lived and worked in Belgium and France for 15 years. She works as a consultant and coach leveraging her years of experience as a manager and strategist in the corporate world, her work in Organizational Development and Leadership and her current involvement with Mediators Beyond Borders.

As I move between corporate clients and the work I am doing with the NGO, Mediators Beyond Borders preparing for the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, I am struck by how we in the corporate world have so much to learn from how this amazing virtual team of mediators works togethe

This team from MBB achieves both results and process dimensions beyond anything I have experienced in many years of corporate work with senior executives in Fortune 50 organizations as well as their Organizational Development/Leadership/professionals.

There is a quality of deep listening and attentive reading (people actually purposefully and with consideration read full emails – don’t just skim and mentally take off on another agenda). I’m convinced that this is the essence of healthy collaboration.

A new C suite officer - Chief Mediation Officer would be the keystone for building collaboration that is deep and lasting, and for embedding the spirit of mediation into all of the organization’s ventures.

Collaboration is the current management “trend” – of course there is lots of history and good data to support the fact that collaborative teams do indeed achieve higher results in both productivity and innovation (see Lynda Gratton’s results from the Singapore teams – as a Hot Spots Coach I experienced this excellent work first hand).

Unfortunately collaboration can be superficial and temporal – especially in virtual teams. A quick “Mediation Refresh Button,” (i.e. short refresher program or usual part of the “ground rules” for every team/joint venture) would embed and legitimize the thinking, spirit and process of mediation in the collaborative process. It would not only save time, but reduce the hurt/misunderstandings and negative energy around “oh that email wasn’t very supportive, wonder what they really meant – guess I’ll just not copy him next time” behavior that builds walls and shuts down any possibility of real collaboration.  We recognize that we need to derive the very best from the diversity and creative thinking that can come with virtual teams.

There is an enormous amount of data supporting the innovative results and value of diverse teams. An excellent article Bridging Faultlines in Teams by Tammy Erickson, Lynda Gratton and Andreas Voigt explores the reality of the challenges and makes good tactical suggestions for managing the breakdowns in collaboration and for keeping the teams from developing fault lines. An embedded culture of mediation would make it not only OK but comfortable (ooh that is the hard part) and normal to address the inevitable – and very healthy conflict that arises within all teams. It is key that conflict be OK, be named and examined, before it becomes de-energizing, painful, and poisonous.

A mediation culture supports conflict and recognizes that it is healthy and innovation generating and that suppressing it at a personal level or group level will at best lead to compliant behavior with no creativity and at worst to isolation and shut down at the personal and the group thinking levels.

Mediation skills building (and I am very privileged to have recently taken workshops with both Tom Fiutak and Ken Cloke) bring together many of the practices we in the Organizational Development/ Leadership/ Coaching world know so well, especially Organizational Learning, (all of the Five Disciplines: Shared Vision, Systems Thinking, Personal Mastery, Mental Models, and Team Learning). Mediation as practiced by experienced mediators integrates, sharpens and focuses these and many other specific skills and experiences to bring to the very skilled process of conflict resolution.

The Chief Mediation Officer is a position that was part of ancient cultures – usually one of the village elders – someone who was wise, with years of learning. As my Bedouin guide said to me “I don’t know why you have to teach people about systems thinking and dialogue, when you grow up as we do, you practice systems thinking in order to survive in the desert and dialogue is how we talk with each other when we are making decisions.”

As we move toward disruptive innovation in our management practices; the most important need is how to capitalize on the human capital assets of diverse groups of people working together virtually. We can continue to learn from ancient peoples and we can put focus on the fields of collaboration – with integral mediation skills and practices.


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carl taylor
Dec 1, 2009 9:30

Marilyn-Your comments are dead on. In healthcare for instance we witness frequent failures of C level initiatives many times due to the failure to adequately mediate the desire of senior level against the objectives/incentives of middle management and sometimes the outright passive aggressive behaviour at the ground level of operations Mediation within a corporate setting ought to be a requirement particularly as we hopefully move from a vertical to a horizontal approach to enlightened management.
One other quick observation, in the merged world of wikinomics and traditional mediation is the ability now to observe and learn from expression of concern or support posted in social media sites and other places like twitter. I was recently involved in trying to understand the reluctance of individuals in getting the H1 vaccine. By observing and tagging twitter comments I gained great granularity of issues such as mercury content, design process and information mistrust, all of which can be dealt with once understood. So perhaps what we can have are skilled mediators such as your self with an even greater awareness of the real underlying concerns of all parties. Sounds like a way to produce effective dialog within a corporation, community or across borders. Keep up the great work, it is well needed.

Ben Ziegler
Dec 1, 2009 13:50

Marilyn, this is a great post. I love how you connect organization, culture, mediation, collaboration, and ancient wisdom. You have a real systems perspective. Your thoughts around embedding the mediation spirit, a “mediation refresh button”, and the Chief Mediation Officer, are all great ideas for how to extend the potential of mediation in an organization.

Tina Monberg
Dec 1, 2009 14:59

Marilyn, you bring mediation to life – not just as a tool, but as a mindset, and by implementing your idea of a Chief Mediation Officer in organisations, I believe that we will experience much more flow, balance and reciprocity

Chief Mediation Officer: One of many ways to imbed the spirit of mediation in your organization
Dec 2, 2009 11:14

[...] [...]

Rex Lee
Dec 3, 2009 10:17

Thanks Marilyn, Interesting post. Could you share more details on specific objectives a “Chief Mediation Officer” would actually have that would warrent a C level designation?

Marilyn Davison
Dec 3, 2009 12:17

Wonderful question and a very long conversation that I would love to engage in. There is a value proposition with lots of hard data associated with my concept of this post. Asking your patience for this to be deferred until after Copenhagen Climate Change Conference so I can purposefully focus on the answer.

Marilyn Davison
Dec 3, 2009 16:36

Good article in December HBR on Conflict Management http://bit.ly/4oZndF

Tom A. Kosakowski
Dec 9, 2009 14:29

Great proposal. Why not “Chief Conflict Resolution Officer,” and include organizational ombuds function too? Many employee concerns do not need mediation for resolution, but could be handled by a confidential, neutral and informal resource.

David Palmer
Dec 26, 2009 10:02

I was especially struck by your reference to “deep listening” and how important a role it plays in collaboration (as well as in mediation and, basically, all conflict resolution). Working now with Human Rights Watch, in Europe and Africa, I have a chance to deepen my listening skills and apply the insights you’ve presented here. Thanks very much for sharing them with us.

Tina Suvajac Lees
Jan 7, 2010 14:26

The idea of a Chief Mediation Officer – or as suggested above a Chief Conflict Officer which may combine an Ombuds function is great.

Having worked managing an internal mediation service within a large University it is important that a function like this has the correct reporting mechanisms and a feedback look which allows for reporting in to the board level within an organisation. It also allows for what many internal mediation panels don’t and that is someone with the skills, knowledge and development to be able to deal with the complex nature of both low level and high level workplace disputes.

A framework for values-based Appropriate Dispute Resolution (ADR)
Jan 13, 2010 11:53

[...] I hope that the Chief Mediation Officer would approve of all [...]

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