The Workplace Conference is a process designed to bring together those most affected by harmful & destructive circumstances in the workplace. This group comes to an agreement about how to repair the harm & how to go forward. This innovative approach to transforming conflict has its origins in the justice system as a means for dealing more effectively with offending behaviour & its impact on victims. It has been used more recently, & with great success, across a wide range of industries, government & non-government sectors, & large & small businesses.
Workplace Conference — The Process
The Workplace Conference, after careful interviews with key parties, brings together those most affected by the difficult behaviour & its aftermath. In the safety of this forum, particpants are encouraged to tell their stories in an honest & open way.
The extent of the harm to relationships & productivity is explored. Deeply negative emotions are transformed to the point where people are better able to speak in constructive ways with each other. This community of people is then in a position to decide what needs to be done to repair the harm & put plans in place to minimise the chance of further harm. The outcomes are recorded as a Workplace Conference Agreement (similar to a Heads of Agreement from a mediation).
Follow-up is critical to ensure compliance with this agreement & to assist in further problem solving. In some cases the problems are so deep-seated that more than one conference is needed to uncover all the issues & begin the process of healing.
The benefits of this approach include:
- all affected staff will have an opportunity to understand the full picture of what has transpired rather than relying on office gossip as a source of the “truth”
- transformation of conflict into cooperation as the staff involved come together as a community to tackle the problem (becoming “we” instead of “us & them”)
- it becomes this community’s responsibility to decide what’s to be done, rather than resting solely with management — ensuring ownership of any agreement by all parties
- it builds mutual accountability within this community, & develops a sense of trust
- it is an opportunity to review workplace culture & processes which may have contributed to the problem
- it avoids the necessity for industrial &/or legal involvement & hefty court fees — the agreement reached will stand up to scrutiny in any such setting
- the process is fast & effective
- research has proved that participants in such processes have found them to be procedurally, emotionally & substantively fair & satisfying
- the intervention has a solid theory base which draws on neurobiology, psychology, political philosophy, & social, organisational & management theory.
- The conference is often difficult & uncomfortable, at least initially, for all involved. But this hard work is vital to improve the culture & morale in the workplace. The focus is clearly on the state of relationships within the workplace & how these have suffered. These relationships will be rebuilt & enhanced to a point where staff can get on with business without the distraction caused by the ongoing difficulty.
Cases which have been successfully resolved by Margaret Thorsborne & Associates´ workplace conferencing include:
- workplace bullying — Customer Service Centre, Public Sector Agency
- aggressive management — IT Company
- aftermath of a grievance — Work Unit, Public Sector Agency
- diminished work performance — Partner, Law Firm
- high level conflict among office staff — Law Firm
- workplace bullying — Food Manufacturer
- misconduct by employee — Bank
- grievance resolution — Public Sector Agency
- sexual harassment — Public Sector Agency
- professional isolation & discrimination — High School Staff