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Building Better Business Cultures

This article was originally published in the July 2013 issue of the Journal of the Law Society of Scotland.

A fundamental shift is occurring in
how people do business around the
world. Driven as much by economic
necessity as by a new enlightenment,
it is said that organisations and industries are
experiencing a paradigm shift in handling
difficult situations, disputes and general
problem-solving, moving from power-based
competition to co-operative collaboration.

A good example lies in the construction
industry. At the recent ABA dispute resolution
conference in Chicago, Kurt Dettman, counsel
to the Boston “Big Dig”, described the many
strategies used in that massive infrastructure
project and in other large contracts in order to
prevent costly disputes arising.

New approaches to construction technology,
design delivery and sustainability herald a
counterpart need for innovative change in
contracting principles and management of
disputes, he said. More bangs need to be achieved
for fewer bucks.

Dettman argued that this transition is
marked by a recognition that reliance on rights
and obligations in a commercial contract or
project can lead to silo mentality, splintering of
interests, multiple friction points and disputes.
In contrast, he said, focusing on the integration
of commercial interests and alignment of
common goals among stakeholders – and on
accountability – promotes a different culture.

Different tools are needed to manage and
allocate risk (and to allocate rewards for
successful collaboration). Thus, according
to Dettman, emphasis needs to be placed on
collaborative team building, early intervention
and planned early dispute avoidance,
upstream conflict management, real time issue
identification and resolution, the employment
of standing third party neutrals, advisers and
mediators, and mitigation strategies for when
things unexpectedly go wrong (as they will).

The Bigger Picture
Arguably, these ideas about collaborative
problem-solving have a much wider application.
One person who can see these changes occurring
in Scotland is John Sturrock QC.

It is 12 years since Sturrock established Core
Solutions Group as a provider of mediation and
training services, at the same time leaving active
practice at the Scottish bar. His vision was to
expand the use of commercial mediation and
high quality conflict management training in
Scotland. He now senses a wider shift in culture.
“What is clear is that our role has expanded and
changed to be significantly broader than it was
even two or three years ago. This has taken Core
into many interesting areas of work, in addition
to our staples of classic mediation and high quality
training. I think this is because the usefulness and
value of an independent ‘third sider’, to quote
William Ury, is better understood and more
appreciated now than before.”

Sturrock cites a number of examples to
illustrate his point:

• A long-term engagement with a large and
geographically dispersed service organisation,
where there had been long-standing tensions
in industrial relations, and negotiations
over terms and conditions, were fraught
with difficulty. A combination of in-house
workshops on interest-based bargaining and
negotiation, one-to-one coaching, facilitation of meetings, and mediation, has helped to
build better working relationships and to
identify common purpose in working towards
agreement on many tough decisions.
Regular work in the health services, where
the presenting dispute or internal conflict
is symptomatic of underlying systematic
dysfunctions and where there is need to build
effective internal problem solving and dispute
management capacity. Building strategies for
long-term policy and planning by decision
makers and stakeholders who have multiple
and diverse interests, alongside coaching,
mentoring, and mediation for staff members,
helps to address the real issues.

• Working within PLCs, developing competency
in managers and business leaders to act as
internal mediators, dispute managers and
corporate strategists helping them to strike
better deals, anticipate possible weaknesses
and risks, and handle disputes and conflict
before they escalate. With hundreds of
millions of pounds at stake in supplier chains
and other contracts with stakeholders,
these sorts of interventions can make a huge

• In the world of sport, conflict and
communication breakdown occur just as they
do everywhere else but, with the intensity
of performance, the consequences can be
very serious. So, training and coaching in
enhancing the ability of athletes and their
support teams to deal with emotion, handle
stressful incidents and keep focusing on the
end result has proved to be very valuable.

Core has also conducted several in-house
master classes on advanced negotiation
and conflict management, with a focus on
handling emotion, risk reduction, teamworking,
recognising cognitive traps and
biases, preparation strategies, and dealing
with deadlock. These challenge participants to
think differently about what they do and how
they do it.

Public Debate
One of Sturrock’s most interesting engagements
is with the various legislatures across the UK as
they seek to improve the scrutiny functions of
select and other committees, build on crossparty
collaboration, and generally develop skills
to hold Government ministers and officials to
account. There is always a tension, says Sturrock,
but many politicians really want to fine tune
their forensic and questioning techniques and
are reflective about the limitations imposed
by party politics on the scrutiny of policy and

Sturrock comments: “Much of this work
goes on under the radar. You won’t necessarily
read much about this on our website. At the
same time, we are pleased that our flagship
training course continues to attract top quality
participation not only from Scotland but from
other parts of the UK and mainland Europe. The
current course is filling already. And we have had
the privilege of conducting the course in Belfast
too and building on the strong relationships
we have in Northern Ireland. Meanwhile,
mediations continue apace throughout the UK
and Ireland.”

In Sturrock’s view, the Scottish independence
referendum offers mediators, facilitators and
problem-solvers an opportunity to promote
different ways to address such difficult issues.
Core recently launched an initiative to encourage
civility in public discourse and business life with
its Protocol for Respectful Dialogue (see panel).
Interest in this is strong, no doubt encouraged
by former US President Bill Clinton’s remarks
in Edinburgh recently, about the need for the
independence debate to be carried out with
respect. Indeed several law firms have already
adapted the protocol for their own use.

Challenge for the Profession
Where does all this leave lawyers? It is said that
we are living in the “new normal”. As online
working grows and access to information which
was hitherto exclusive, the implications for
traditional lawyering are significant. There is
another legal revolution occurring. That much
we all know already. As with the construction
industry, the challenge now may be to find new
ways for lawyers to work together, to work even
more collaboratively for, and with, clients. To
do so requires skills, techniques and attitudes
that have not until recently been part of the
legal education curriculum but without which
lawyers could be left behind. It is comforting that
an increasing number of Scottish practitioners
recognise this, and are undertaking training
and skills development to meet the challenges
of this revolution.


John Sturrock

John Sturrock is the founder and senior mediator at Core Solutions, Scotland's pre-eminent provider of commercial mediation services. As a pioneer of mediation throughout the UK and elsewhere, his work extends to the commercial, professional, sports, public sector, policy and political fields. He is a Distinguished Fellow of the international… MORE >

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