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Peer Conflict Coaching at the Transportation Security Administration

The designers of Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Integrated Conflict Management System (ICMS) recognized that typically there is nowhere for an individual to go for the vast majority of daily conflicts and issues he/she faces at work. There are rights-based and interest-based options for many full-blown disputes; yet an organization focused on developing a culture of conflict competency needs to proactively address and provide avenues for managing daily inevitable conflicts many of which are not embraced at all in the rights-based parts of the system. TSA has chosen to do this through a broad system of conflict management/cooperative problem solving education for all staff as well as through the development of conflict coaching. Conflict coaches provide an internal support system for conflict management service delivery at the peer level.

The Peer Conflict Coaching program was created by myself (as Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Conflict Management Program Officer) and Cinnie Noble, using her CINERGY™ model. Peer Conflict Coaching program is a core component of TSA’s ICMS.

TSA’s Peer Conflict Coaching program has two primary components. First, the conflict coaches provide general information about options available to TSA staff in the ICMS. This not only provides a valuable information service to the prospective coachee, it also ensures that the staff member does not erroneously think that he or she has filed a legal grievance or EEO complaint by coming to the conflict coach – a misunderstanding that could have serious consequences for the individual and the agency. Second, if the staff member chooses conflict coaching, the coach provides that service using the CINERGY™ model.

As of October 2005, 240 candidates have attended the basic conflict coaching workshop. Approximately 98 of those are now qualified to coach their peers at more than 30 sites across TSA. Another 30 are anticipated to become qualified to coach live cases within the coming months, and coaching services are expected to be available at more than 50 TSA sites by early 2006. More than 200 individual cases have now been coached throughout the agency.

Planning for Sites and Ratios of Conflict Coaches to Staff and Program Support

There was no known precedent for the creation of a collateral duty, peer conflict coaching program, so the development of the program began with regular conference calls with ICMS Coordinators at pilot sites laying out plans for the program, entertaining queries and concerns for site development, guiding the selection of candidates for the program, developing leadership buy-in, marketing, etc. These calls continue twice monthly to support the development and administration of the national and site programs in stages of pre-launch, launch, and post-launch.

The initial ratio of peer conflict coaches to staff at participating sites was set at 1 coach to 100 staff members. As more sites joined the program, this ratio soon became unrealistic, and the ratio is now in the range between 1 coach to between 150 and 300 staff. As statistics become available of coaching sessions needed and held at each site, the number of coaches will be adapted and will inform further program development.

Development of an internal Coach Support Team Increasingly support is provided by members of a Coach Support Team, currently comprised of 18 members who have become peer conflict coaches and who have experience in setting up a coaching program at their site. The ultimate aim of this program is to have the Coach Support Team take over much of the responsibility for managing and supporting the individual coaches and the program agency-wide.

Selection of Conflict Coach Candidates

Each participating site at TSA has an ICMS Coordinator. Most of them fill that role as a collateral duty. The selection of the best candidates for the role of conflict coach was a key element of the program start-up and remains a crucial element of the program as it matures. Each site is provided with a list of desirable characteristics for a conflict coach as well as with program support for best practices in soliciting for and making selections. Sites are encouraged to use interest-based methods in this process. There are two major challenges with the selection process. First, some of the best candidates for peer coaching are those most likely to be promoted out of their peer group into the management ranks; and second, conflict coaching is a collateral duty, thus requiring the coaches to make an extra effort beyond their normal duties to participate in the program.

Training and Competency Development – Becoming a “Qualified TSA Conflict Coach”

Throughout 2004 and most of 2005, conflict coach designees attended three day conflict coaching workshops where they were introduced to the program parameters, studied the CINERGY™ model, and began practicing their new conflict coaching skills. Each workshop was limited to twelve participants, and each was delivered and supported by the same two co-leaders.

Following the basic workshop, each coach created a personal plan to accomplish the series of steps required to become a fully Qualified TSA Conflict Coach. The term “Qualified” was selected as a way of designating a basic level of competency to perform solo conflict coaching while respecting the generally recognized “Certified” coach status that the International Coach Federation reserves for those who prove an extensive level of training and experience.

Competency development is modeled as a parallel to similar development for mediators and includes the following steps: 1) completion of at least three solo practice coaching sessions; 2) successful completion of a first competency session with program mentor; 3) two additional co-coaching practice sessions with a peer coach; 4) successful completion of a second competency session with program mentor; 5) at least two live real-time co-coaching sessions with another peer coach; and finally 6) successful completion of a final competency session with program mentor. Upon completion of this final session, the coach becomes a fully Qualified TSA Conflict Coach. The only other requirement is that each coach must have attended a minimum of six community of practice conference calls prior to becoming fully qualified.

Community of Practice Bi-Weekly Calls

To support the coaches both as individuals and as a community of practice, two weekly toll free conference calls were established and have been running continuously since mid-2004. These conference lines can receive up to 50 callers, and the typical attendance on any one hour call is between 25 and 30. An agenda is set for the calls each quarter, and the program leaders typically cover a general topic of interest to the coaches and then move to a review and coaching practice focused on an element of the CINERGY™ model. Each peer conflict coach is required to participate in one of these calls every other week as long as she/he remains a member of the community of practice.

More Training Needed

In the spring of 2005 it became clear that additional support was needed for most of the peer conflict coaches to develop competency to begin coaching live cases for TSA. The decision was made to hold a series of Intensives, two day workshops designed for individuals who have already completed the basic 3-day workshop to provide a review of the programmatic and CINERGY™ model materials and to provide live support for the coaches by the program leaders. Four of these Intensives have now been held with the result that over 75% of those attending left able to coach live cases for the agency and thus launch or support site programs.

Continuing Education Credits recognized by the ICF are granted through CINERGY™ Coaching for the course work completed by each participant.

Legal and Ethical Considerations

Extensive collaboration between the various departments at TSA was required to set up this program before any site could launch its conflict coaching services. While the Model Workplace Office collaborated primarily with the Office of Chief Counsel, there was also ongoing consultation with the Ombudsman and the Office of Civil Rights. Of primary concern was ensuring that each coach agreed to Standards of Ethical Conduct designed to ensure that Self-determination, Neutrality and Confidentiality were maintained across the program. The Standards of Ethical Conduct were adapted from those of the International Coach Federation. Each conflict coach must sign these Standards prior to his/her first live coaching session for TSA. Participation in Conflict Coaching is voluntary. This and other core elements of the conflict coaching relationship are addressed in the Conflict Coaching Agreement signed by both coach and coachee prior to each coaching session.

Decisions had to be made about what staff groupings comprised each peer group. The primary consideration here was avoiding constructive notice by ensuring that the coach was never in a management or supervisory position where she/he would have an obligation to take action on a given issue. This would violate the core ethics of the program.

Additional legal and ethical concerns were addressed relative to zero tolerance issues in a security environment, especially since the assumption is that conflict coaches are not covered as practitioners under the federal ADR Act.


Some of the major challenges presented by this program include:

  • The collateral duty nature of the role served by the conflict coaches;
  • The selection of the most appropriate individuals for the coaching role;
  • Promotions out of peer groups leading to a need for constant backfill at certain sites weighed against limited resources;
  • Addressing the demand from sites desiring to participate given the current requirement of face to face coaching for screener peer group and resource limitations;
  • Marketing and low awareness of the program initially contrasted with unrealistic demand as the program’s visibility increases
  • Time and space for coaches to coach.


Evaluation of the program and individual coaches based on anonymous post-session evaluation forms is being conducted by the Doctoral program in Organizational Development at the University of St. Thomas, Minneapolis, Minnesota. The same organization is providing a long-term evaluation based on follow-up with volunteer coachees as well as a cost-benefit analysis of the program.

Participating sites are required to provide the HQ program office with monthly statistics including numbers of coaching sessions held by each peer conflict coach.

Looking Forward

The peer coaching program is likely to shift to providing coaching skills to mid-level and senior management throughout the agency while maintaining a solid core of conflict coaches at all peer levels. As competency levels develop for each coach and as quality of services is measured and becomes reliable, creative ways of leveraging existing coaches must be explored to meet expanding demand with limited resources.


Michael Rawlings

Presented by Michael W. Rawlings, JD at the September 2005 annual conference of the Association for Conflict Resolution, Minneapolis, Minnesota. MORE >

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