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Innovation: The Break Through in Conflict Resolution

  • Posted by: Ellen Kandell


Happy Holidays to our readers. We are grateful for the opportunities we have had in 2013 to work with new and long-time clients. It takes a lot of courage to tackle conflict head on and we deeply appreciate your trust.

Innovation: Ingredients, Barriers & Great Examples

We began our newsletters this year by featuring a discussion of eight tools for the leader as mediator from Mark Gerzon’s Leading Through Conflict: How Successful Leaders Transform Differences into Opportunities, Boston, MA. Harvard Business School Press, 2006. The premise of this book is that great leaders bring the skills and characteristics of a mediator to solve tough organizational challenges. This month we feature the final tool for the leader as mediator, innovation.  

Innovation is the break through after all the mediator tools have been implemented. It is the end result of good use of honest dialogue and bridging of people and groups in conflict. It is the by product of integral vision and systems thinking that create broader ways for looking at conflict.

Ingredients of Innovation

“[S]omething must change the way people in conflict situation think or act. It must make a difference in their lives.” Id at 207. The system that creates the conflict must change in order for there to be innovation. Id. at 208. This means not merely resolving a workplace but designing a system wide organizational dispute resolution policy to better manage conflict. Innovation is transforming conflict into opportunity, or turning conflict into consensus, as we say at Alternative Resolutions, LLC.

Ownership or buy-in is a critical ingredient. Parties in conflict must create the innovation together. They must design their solution and have the means to do it. Behavior and awareness must shift to create new opportunities. First you need an environment that inspires, acknowledges and responds to good ideas. Increased levels of trust are vital to the idea germination stage of innovation. Secondly, you need follow through mechanisms so that new ideas can become a reality.

In conflict system design, innovation would be putting cross functional teams together to look at organizational conflict from a birds’ eye view. The leader as mediator would not lead the conflict design committee but bestow ownership on the team. The board of directors or trustees would serve as advisors, not critiquers. This example contains the ingredients for buy-in and institutional support that are critical to innovation taking root.

Barriers to Innovation

Organizations with defensive reactive thinking where new ideas are belittled are the death knell of innovation. Turf based managerial leaders predictably react negatively to new ideas, Id. at 211. Bureaucracy and fear are also barriers to innovation.

Examples of innovation

The challenge is to change the notion of what innovation might look like. It varies depending on the organization and the nature of the conflict. It could be developing new more reliable sources of information if conflict is based on lack of data. Other examples of innovation and conflict are the creation of bridging organization launching of collaborative projects and the integration of competing approaches.

Starting in 2014 we will go to bi-monthly schedule for our newsletter and focus more of our outreach to our new blog, “Leaning In: Turning Conflict into Consensus”.

Best wishes for a peaceful, happy and healthy holiday season and all good things in 2014.

Ellen F. Kandell is a certified professional mediator and attorney with over 30 years of public and private sector experience. She provides mediation, group facilitation and training to diverse, national clients. Get in touch with her via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or give her a call at 301-588-5390.

Author: Ellen Kandell

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