Find Mediators Near You:

Building An Internal System For Resolving Disputes

This article is courtesy of, a website committed to
making the lives of HR professionals and business

Dispute resolution is a key competency that managers and organizations cannot afford to do without. It is unrealistic to assume that individuals can be trained to the same level of expertise and effectiveness in addressing or resolving disputes. The lack of a defined organizational system for handling disputes means that this important task is handled in an ad hoc, power based, and often unilateral way.

Power based outcomes have inherent costs. These costs include:

  • Less “buy in” from the affected parties
  • Increased turnover due to employee dissatisfaction
  • Dissatisfied employees may have a “spillover” effect on the satisfaction of their co-workers
  • Increased risk of employee sabotage
  • Increased legal costs due to law suits

Goals of a Systems Approach

An organizational systems approach to dispute resolution should have as its goals the following:

1. Reduced Costs

As with most organizational systems, the benefits must outweigh the costs of the system. Cost can be reduced through lower turnover and the inherent costs associated with new hires. Litigation costs may also be reduced through the use of a formal system for resolving disputes. Employee morale may be increased, since they may perceive that their voice matters; this may lead to increased productivity. Formal systems also reduce costs by dealing with disputes in a more efficient and timely manner. What this implies is that disputes will be resolved sooner in the presence of a formal system.

2. Maintain The Relationship

The employment relationship is a complex and costly one. Both parties have investments in the relationship, and its value should be carefully preserved and nurtured, in most cases. The relationship can be maintained using a formal systems approach due to the following:

  • Participation in the outcome
  • Fairness
  • Mutual Satisfaction
  • Dignity
  • Ownership of the outcome
  • Higher quality decisions

3. Avoid Future Disputes

The increased awareness and training that accompanies the development and implementation of a formal system will have an inadvertent effect on the people within the organization. With better tools to recognise and deal with conflict (or its potential) people will be able to make higher quality decisions, that will allow for the early resolution, or avoidance, of conflict all together.

The ability of systems to manage knowledge is a great advantage. Systems formalise the documentation of process and outcomes. With documentation, comes the ability to learn form past precedence (experience). Precedence is a key principle in common law and allows for fairness as well as reasonable expectations.

Design Of A System

Assemble a team to investigate or diagnose the needs of the organization.

Survey past disputants, employees and management, including executives.

The team should include executive sponsorship and be headed by a respected and competent leader. The team members should include key stakeholders including HR, union, employee, legal and executive members.

This team should investigate the types of past dispute that have occurred, as well as the types of future disputes that may occur. They are responsible for determining the “will for change” and the need for change. They should play an evaluative role as well as a change leader role.

Understand the culture of the organization and the resources that are available for system development. It is important that the development of any system be aligned with the overall culture and goals of the organization and that the project be properly funded with a given budget. System design, including communication, training, evaluation and leadership/ responsibility.

The system will need to be properly communicated at all stages in its development. Communication includes active participation and publication of some of the successful outcomes. This will reinforce buy in. Training is essential for all potential participants in order for the system to add value. Training should include dispute resolution process, content and prevention.

The ongoing reporting and evaluation of the system will enhance its profile and allow for valuable feedback for the ongoing evolution of the system.

Executive leadership and responsibility will communicate the importance of the system and create accountability.

Implementation will require training of neutrals and participants. Communication should be comprehensive and inclusive of everyone in the organization.

The implementation stage should include the positive promotion of the system, with key people playing an active role. Training is essential for successful implementation.

Integration of the system into organizational life

The system should be consistently viewed in a positive light with no negative connotation attached to its use. If it is promoted and viewed positively, it will be used as a tool for organizational effectiveness. Regular communication and dispute awareness training should become a part of the organizational culture.


Creating an organizational system for dealing with disputes raises awareness in dealing with conflict within organizations and formalizes commitment in resolving conflict. The value of the system will be determined by the quality of the outcomes and the costs that it saves. Something to keep in mind is that the goal should be to provide this system for the right reasons and participation should be voluntary. If the system is mandated by law, or through a court order, then the development of the system is done because of a power based decision. Likewise if participation in the system is mandatory (this is also a power based influence) this will affect the quality of the participation and its outcomes.


This article was provided by is a website committed to making the lives of HR professionals and business managers easier. offers eight communities to address the specialties within human resources, including a section on Conflict and Dispute Resolution in our Labor Relations community. Within each community, users can access articles and research, find vendors/consultants, buy products or services and join discussion groups to learn from their peers.


Bob Delaney

Bob Delaney's outgoing and consistently positive attitude tends to irritate non-morning people, especially before their coffee. As well as being a Knowledge Manager at, Bob is an Academic Instructor at a local college where he teaches in the Post-graduate Diploma Program in Human Resources Management. His academic credentials are… MORE >

Featured Members

View all

Read these next


Mediating Madness — Proven Stress Reduction Strategies From a Mediator

From the Mediation Matters Blog of Steve Mehta.Recently, after a very stressful mediation, one of the attorneys came up to me and told me that he didn’t know how I...

By Steve Mehta

Could Transformative Models Of Mediation And Restorative Justice Have Made A Difference?

On November 30, 2009 a young man, Maurice Clemmons, was shot to death after he shot 4 cops in a coffee shop near Seattle, Washington. Of course it made headlines,...

By Grace Eagle Reed

NYPD Commissioner Kelly Encourages Mediation

Please read (and enjoy!) the following press release from the NYPD: Police Officers Encouraged to use Mediation for Resolving Civilian Complaints NYPD Supports Voluntary Mediation Efforts Between Civilians and Officers...

By Jeff Thompson