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A Team Approach to Fairness in Conflict Management Systems Design

Extract #6 from Workplaces That Work: A Guide to Conflict Management in Union and Non-Union Work Environments (Aurora: Canada Law Book, 2006)

In the book Workplace That Work, we have explored options for conflict management systems and introduced the Testing Instrument for Fairness Systems (TIFFS), thus exploring the first part of the Donais Fairness Theory: that fairness can be measured in workplace conflict management systems. But how do we prove the second part of the Fairness Theory – that workplaces can achieve fairness excellence? How do we start the workplace renewal process?

We start from a position of consensus with the ADR community that conflict management systems are best designed by the workplace participants themselves. Many authors have extolled the virtues of client-centered process design in the analysis, design and implementation of organizational conflict management systems. And in accordance with the idea that there is value in promoting fairness in the management of conflict in the workplace we suggest that the design team itself should be structured around the principle of fairness.

The following article introduces a process for the establishment of a Fairness Team that will sheppard the workplace through the four phases of conflict management systems design.


The first order of business is to set up a Fairness Team that oversees the system through the four phases of the process. This team is constructed by the senior leadership of the organization with the aid of internal or external consultants. The consultants will use the templates in Chapter 4 of Workplaces That Work, to help the senior leadership build a Fairness Charter. This charter guides the team through the renewal process.

The Fairness Charter includes directions on: team deliverables, processes, membership, norms, schedules, resources, reporting relationships and budgets as set out below.

Team Deliverables

The first objective of the Fairness Charter is to pull the designers together with clear deliverables. It is advisable to perform an assessment of the total system, even if it is suspected that only a particular part of the system needs improvement.

Assessment, Design, Implementation and Monitoring Process

The Charter spells out the process used to assess, redesign, implement and monitor the fairness system. It is likely that only a very general process can be included in the Fairness Charter. This process will have to be amended as the team begins its work and determines, with more precision, the task in front of it.

Team Membership

The Fairness Charter itemizes the basic principles of the team and outlines the composition of the team membership. Make sure to include representatives from each of the “stakeholder” groups. There are a variety of ways to determine who sits on the team. Certain stakeholder groups and some demographic categories could be canvassed or even allowed a vote to determine their representative on the team. Usually, however, this is determined by the senior executive in consultation with internal and/or external consultants.

The charter must also identify the team “champion”, someone committed to the process who can put a face on the team. The Champion should be a senior, respected workplace participant with ready access to the company’s executive and with sufficient authority to ensure the team receives the resources it needs.

In addition to the Fairness Champion there may be internal and external experts called in to aid in the four phases. This depends upon the size of the organization and the needs of the team.

Team Norms

The Fairness Charter spells out the norms of the team. This is crucial to a successful process. How are decisions made? Are they on a consensus basis or through an equal democratic vote among the members? Do some of the members have a vote while others simply provide guidance? Defining the team norms early will reduce problems later.

Schedule of Activities

The Fairness Charter sets out a general timeline for completion of phases one and two as well as your deliverables. The main deliverables are a series of written reports setting out the recommendations of the team. The report includes an executive summary listing the recommendations up front, a detailed analysis including a discussion about the methodology, data collection efforts, and timelines. Include an appendix with more thorough research and analysis.


The Fairness Charter outlines the necessary resources for successful fairness system assessment, redesign, implementation and monitoring.

Reporting Relationship and Authority Register

The Fairness Charter specifies the team’s reporting relationship and its authority to compel other parts of the company to cooperate. It is important that the team reports directly to the top of the house.

The Fairness Charter as a Contract

The team charter is a contract between the team and the organizational leadership. Each party to this contract has rights and obligations. The Fairness Team has the obligation to assess, design, implement and monitor the system while the organizational leadership has the obligation to provide the necessary support to make this happen.


With directives drafted in the Fairness Charter and a qualified team assembled, you can begin the four phases of system design: Needs Exploration, System Design, Implementation and Monitoring.

Phase 1 – Needs Exploration

Prior to the assessment process, each member of the team needs proper training in ADR processes and Conflict Management Systems design. Remember that this training is an investment. Avoid off-the-shelf training packages and provide training suited to your workplace.

As set out in your Charter, the Fairness Team must assess the present system. First they need information. They agree to meet over a number of weeks to define the methodology for data collection and systems analysis. The team researches similar organizations, and uses the Testing Instrument For Fairness Systems (TIFFS) and Fairness Cost Analysis Tool (FCAT) set out in Workplaces That Work to begin their analysis.

Phase Two – System Design

Does the team recommend changes to the system or not? If there are no recommendations then the team writes and presents the report. If they do recommend change, then proceed to Phase Two. In Phase Two your Fairness Team will use the TIFFS to design a new system or make modifications to the existing system. Then they will write a report as set out above. Assuming the report is accepted then the team proceeds to the next phase.

Phase Three – System Implementation

Now that the new system is designed, it is time to put it into operation. The team begins with the implementation plan outlined in the Fairness System Design Report. This plan sets out timelines and deliverables for the system’s implementation.

It is not wise to implement the changes to the fairness system without first educating the workplace participants on how to use it. The implementation plan also outlines marketing the new system to the stakeholders.

Try piloting the new fairness system before implementing it across the whole organization. This is especially helpful in large organizations where the cost of implementing the system across the organization can be quite high.

Phase Four – System Monitoring

Once the system is in place, you need ongoing monitoring and periodic re-evaluation of the system. Monitoring is accomplished with constant participant feedback. Especially in large organizations it is important to set up a process where workplace participants can express both concerns and support for the system.

An Evolving System

Your conflict management system is not set in stone. In accordance with the Donais Fairness Theory, think of it as a constantly changing system on its way to achieving fairness excellence. As a need for change is identified, the team moves from monitoring back to the more thorough exploration and assessment stages and so on. To achieve fairness excellence, make sure that the Four Phase process remains dynamic and the Fairness Team remains active and vibrant.


Blaine Donais

Blaine Donais B.A., LL.B., LL.M. (ADR), RPDR, C. Med., author of Workplaces That Work, published by Canada Law Book, has spent many years working with public and private sector professionals. He is President and Founder of the Workplace Fairness Institute, Conflict Management Solutions. He has represented professionals as a labour… MORE >

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