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Does Your Organization Need a System?

“Conflict management systems …(are) apparently an emerging phenomenon in American corporations…. (i)n many companies with strong ADR policies, ADR isn’t simply a set of techniques added to others the company uses but represents a change in the company’s mindset about how it needs to manage conflict”1

Most managers will tell you that they spend over half their time dealing with workplace conflict, and most businesses and other organizations can list numerous examples of conflict with clients, industry and other stakeholders. Yet still today, the majority of organizations deal with these conflicts one at a time. They do not have an overall strategic plan for managing conflict.

However, this is changing. Modern organizations are realizing that even though case-by-case dispute resolution is important and valuable, if these processes are left to stand alone without supporting structures, only the symptoms and not the causes, of organizational conflict are being addressed.

With today’s emphasis on workplace health and with corporate priorities of employee recruitment and retention, organizations have begun to search for solutions. The “Integrated Conflict Management System” moves beyond individual case resolution and introduces functions that permeate the workplace and have enormous potential for organizational cultural transformation, creating a culture of “conflict competency”.

The design and implementation of an integrated conflict management system may be undertaken by corporations or organizations to address internal workplace conflict. Or, it may be implemented in order to help with investor and industry relations, and to prevent contracting disputes.

Does your organization need a system?

As the author noted in “Beyond ADR: A Systems Approach to Conflict Management” (Negotiation Journal, July 2001 p.210), if any one of the following five motivators exists within your organization, an integrated conflict management system may be the answer to your concerns:

1. Compliance: Legislation or policy that requires the use of new dispute resolution processes.

2. Cost: Cost factors related to disputes include direct costs such as legal fees and payment of judgments, and indirect costs such reduced productivity, frustration, loss of employees.

3. Crisis: A headline case that could have been managed or even prevented, or an avalanche of disputes hits the organization.

4. Competition: The organization finds that it is losing its competitive edge and cannot attract or retain the skilled workforce that it needs; or

5. Culture: This fifth motivating factor is one that many are finding compelling. There is a growing understanding that firms must pay attention to continued evolution of their internal cultures, if they are to be successful in achieving their core corporate objectives. Typically, front line services have been modernized to be more “service oriented”, collaborative, and transparent, yet internal culture has not kept pace, and is hierarchical and closed, perhaps almost “command/control” with a “chain of management” making power-based decisions.

For example, consider:

  • How a police service that provides community based policing services, using collaborative partnerships with citizens, can be successful if its constables after a day of interest-based problem solving are treated in a “rank is right” command/control manner for their own interpersonal or administrative complaints?
  • How a university can successfully encourage healthy academic debate and grant degree programs in conflict resolution, yet fail to address its internal conflicts between faculty/administration/staff and students in an interest based way?
  • How a mining company can expect success in developing better relationships with industry, government and the community if it does not develop communication and negotiation competencies for its staff?
  • How a correctional service, which espouses restorative justice and safe re-integration of the offender through collaborative community involvement, can be successful if its correctional officers are treated in a power-based chain-of-command manner for their own conflicts?
  • How a revenue collection agency can increase taxpayer compliance through new practices of collaborative problem solving with the taxpayer, if the collection officer faces internal rules-based systems that seem even more rigid?

Does this sound like your organization? If so, then you may wish to investigate the idea of taking a systems approach to managing your conflict!

1 David Lipsky and Ron Seeber, The Appropriate Resolution of Corporate Disputes: A Report on the Growing Use of ADR by U.S. Corporations. Ithaca, NY: Cornell/PERC Institute on Conflict Resolution, 1998


Jennifer Lynch

Jennifer Lynch, is Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission MORE >

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