20 April 2012

Don’t Manage Conflict, Engage It (and each other)!

Responding to the detailed design document for our proposed Master’s in Leadership and Organization, Development and Coaching, friend and collaborator, Cinnie Noble notes the seeming absence of topics covering conflict management. She appropriately observes that,
Conflict costs organizations – financially (through litigation, grievances, absenteeism, retention etc.), AND in other ways such as the impact that ill-managed conflict has on morale, productivity, the ability to make decisions, problem solve, and be creative. Most organizations (and people) are reactive when it comes to conflict, and OD and coaching principles and practice have the potential for providing proactive approaches that prevent unnecessary conflict and help make effective conflict engagement the norm rather than something to be avoided until it is too late.

Effective conflict management is not commonly identified as a core competency for leaders, and there is a paucity of information about what constitutes conflict competent leaders and organizations. Much leadership coaching work however, is focused on helping leaders develop the knowledge, skills and abilities to engage more effectively in conflict and better manage interpersonal and other disputes.

Mission statements and codes of conduct are commonly subject to interpretation and often do not consider cultural differences. Some expectations about how staff are supposed to
behave are otherwise unspoken and unwritten. In any case there are many problems about trying to instil respectful ways of interacting. In actuality, the results of such efforts are the 'stuff' of grievances, the need for mediation, investigations, human rights complaints and so on. In the well-meaning efforts to provide a framework for staffs' communications, many workplaces do not provide the requisite training, coaching or modelling to effectively implement and sustaingood behaviour. What is more, they do not provide the ways and means for staff to easily access assistance.

Conflict has yet to be fully embraced as an opportunity for organizations to achieve more positive outcomes. Such outcomes are for instance, to examine disparate ideas in order to innovate and create new ways to solve problems, to explore possibilities based on opposing views and differences, to improve relationships so that productivity increases and staff are healthy contributors.

Imagine if we, as leaders, were able to create an environment in which the nature of conversations that occur in that environment preclude what we term as “interpersonal disputes,” disgruntlement, and generally bad behaviours; an environment in which mission statements (which I think are relatively counter-productive in most cases) and codes of conduct (ditto, especially with a disparity between espoused and in-use theories of action) are not converted into weapons with the intention of beating recalcitrant employees into submission.

Our proposed master’s program is designed with this effect in mind. For example, one of the key objectives of our Human Thriving course is to enable leaders – right from the program get-go – to begin to think about the nature of what I would call fractal thriving: a concept recognizing that thriving people create thriving organizations create thriving societies. This leads to a fundamental, complexity-based question that can be more or less framed as, “what environmental conditions will most effectively enable the types of organizational relationships that support individuals’ ability to thrive over time?” With these guiding notions in mind, we can then begin to reconsider and reconstruct organizational practices from the ground up with these precepts as foundational design principles (which happens to be consistent with a Valence Theory conception of organization – interesting how that works! ;)

Raising and mindfully (re)considering the topic of conflict management is exceptionally useful and important because it helps us understand with a new clarity what is fundamentally important about this new program we are proposing. Additionally, it assists to emphasize what I believe must be a core value that pervades all aspects of our curriculum narrative. I
m hoping that the specific seminars on Positive Leadership principles and Appreciative Management practices in the Human Thriving course will set the tone early on. I’m also hoping – more than hoping; we’re planning for it, actually – that proactive leadership, coaching, and OD practices and principles enable organizational environments in which effective engagement among all members becomes the norm, rather than the exception, over time.

Through our program, we will plant the seeds—essentially creating an appropriately conducive environment for our participants in which whatever is to emerge that enacts these values will emerge. I am trusting in the capacity of those whom we will attract to the program to bring forth conversations that perhaps none of us can specifically conceive of from the outset. We will encourage the juxtaposition of diverse contexts (and understanding the intrinsic value in such diversity), provide a wide range of analytical tools that enable useful thinking about polarity issues, and primarily focus on the multiple ways in which a healthy human and organizational ecology can be created, enabled, and actively encouraged out in the world, especially starting from the societal mess in which we collectively find ourselves. In these ways, conflict management may well become a thing of the past, replaced by its more effective counterpart, positive conflict engagement.

05 April 2012

Adventures in Curriculum Design - Master of Leadership & Organization, Development and Coaching

Many of you have been following and participating in the development of our proposed Master of Leadership and Organization, Development and Coaching at the Adler Graduate Professional School. Thanks to great contributions from a variety of collaborators, we anticipate that we are within a couple of months of submitting our application for accreditation to the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities—after that, we await their review, suggested revisions, and final determination.

We have truly benefited from the ideas, insights, and guidance of many people, beginning with our Conversation Caf├ęs last fall, and culminating with curriculum design charrettes at the beginning of this year (check the AGPS label for related postings). Specifically, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Linda Page, Marilyn Laiken, Melinda Sinclair, Peter Chiaramonte, Cinnie Noble, and Venita Indewey for their valuable contributions in helping to create what I think is a truly exceptional degree curriculum.

Now, it’s time (once again) to hear from YOU. I have posted the draft of the Program Content section of our application, and I invite you to take a sneak peak at what we’ve created so far. The complete document is quite long (the government has specific requirements for its layout and contents), but there is no need for you to read it entirely to get an appreciation of what it is we’re planning.

Here’s a quick guide on where to find specific items that you might find interesting:
  • Pages 2 through 8 are the derivation and discussion of the program learning outcomes. 
  • Page 9 is the quick summary of learning outcomes. 
  • Pages 10 through 12 map the learning outcomes to specific courses. 
  • Pages 12 through 18 outline the course descriptions by year and trimester, much like one would find in a program calendar. 
  • Pages 28 through 57 contain the “good stuff”—course syllabus outlines for all our courses (two pages per course).

The document can be downloaded from here. It will be available for the next two weeks only, that is, ONLY UNTIL FRIDAY, APRIL 20, after which we will be consolidating the comments and completing our application submission.

I invite you to download the document and read through as much or as little as might interest you. Please offer whatever feedback, ideas, inspirations, critiques, concerns, kudos, considerations, plaudits, or brickbats you think might help us bring to life what we intend to be a truly outstanding master’s degree for leaders, organization development practitioners, and coaches who are interested in a research and empirically-oriented education to augment their practice, and transform organizations worldwide for the better.