Resolving tensions within an organisation requires similar negotiating skills to those needed to develop collaboration between organisations, so we look at these issues together. But we start with tensions within an organisation, which can vary in strength and origin. In particular they can be: longstanding or of short duration; intense and damaging or minor and easily managed; and between local and national perspectives, between head office and field or between national and foreign.
Read Article 13, linked below, then complete Scenario F.
Click below to view Article 13 (0.1MB).
Our final scenario is one where the factors working against agreement may be overwhelming. Two years ago you were appointed as Country Director of END POVERTY for a small African country. A bitter civil war had forced the office to close and you were to reopen the office and get water projects rolling once more. To you it was the dream job, and offered you a real chance to deliver on some meaningful projects. You have been very successful. You have established excellent working relationships with local officials and there has been considerable genuine local capacity building. At a recent meeting with the Minster for Water Affairs you were publicly congratulated on your role in helping with post-civil-war reconstruction.
Unexpectedly, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of END POVERTY takes early retirement. His replacement is a man with limited NGO experience but considerable experience in the commercial sector, and he argues that END POVERTY has to change to make itself more distinctive and different from other development NGOs. He argues that there is a significant niche in the market for those with management expertise in development and he proposes to put the emphasis on providing development consultancy services to developing country governments, and to sharply reduce involvement in actual projects. In particular, END POVERTY should stop working in water because there are so many other NGOs in that sector; established projects have six months to be wound up. You speak briefly on the phone to your line manager, expressing your dismay at the new line. He is unsympathetic and totally supportive of the new approach and the new CEO. This surprises you, as he had always been so pro-development projects and capacity building, but now he sees consultancy as the way forward.
What are you to do? Consider your options and your likely responses at this point.
You want to maintain water projects and capacity building. Accordingly, you prepare a detailed report, which argues the need to keep the water projects going, as the country still needs support in the aftermath of a devastating civil war. To pull out now is too soon and could damage END POVERTY's reputation in your part of Africa. You speak to a number of colleagues in headquarters who are prepared to support your arguments. Your report is sent to your line manager and, after some negotiation, it is agreed that you may extend the projects – but only for another six months.
Instead of simply closing the projects, you find other NGOs that would be prepared to fund some of the existing projects. This is very good news as it means that several important projects will be able to continue.
But there is no time to consider consultancy initiatives and anyway you have very little enthusiasm for this. You are invited to attend a number of management seminars in support of the many changes to END POVERTY, but you decline, saying your primary responsibility must be to your projects.
You then receive a letter from your line manager reminding you that your role is to find consultancy projects. He writes: ‘I am quite frankly very dismayed by the line you are taking and I would warn you that your current activities go against END POVERTY policy. Any further failure to ignore policy could lead to disciplinary procedures in the future.’ It has been copied to the new CEO.
You speak to your manager on the phone expressing your dismay at this letter and pointing out that you are doing your best in difficult circumstances. He replies that your failure to support the new policy looks very bad for his department. You are now seen as someone who is resisting change. In your view the new policy is a major mistake and you decide to speak to other END POVERTY Country Directors in your part of Africa. Surely if a group of you opposes this new approach something will be done. Your lobbying is going very well. Some of your co-directors feel, like you, that support for development projects should continue. After all, it is agreed, this could work well alongside a consultancy arm.
Then you are summoned to headquarters. You are told that your line manager is recommending to the CEO that END POVERTY pulls out of your country, citing your views that the new consultancy policy is inappropriate for your country and others just coming out of civil war. And you are told you are unlikely to find a new post within the organisation because of your refusal to participate in the change process. As you reflect on events, consider how you might have handled things differently.
Could there have been a better outcome? If so, how might it have been achieved? Why do you think these internal disputes arose? What clues were there indicating the final problem? Finally, do you think you were successful?
All three of the Whetten and Cameron organisation problems are here: lack of information, conflicting roles and organisational stress. So it may not be surprising that the confrontation became personal. A further problem is that head office was using a forcing strategy to push through institutional change.
A collaborative approach requires goals, issues and interests of all parties to be made clear. One question we asked above was: Do you think you were successful? That can gain a mixed response – you saved projects but END POVERTY left your country and you lost your job. You are probably unsure about your success because you lacked clear goals – what did you actually want for yourself and your country? Were your goals peacebuilding, or specific projects, or keeping END POVERTY working in your country?
Similarly, did you try to understand the position at head office? This requires looking at logic bubbles and organisational politics. Did you wonder why the CEO had taken such an approach to policy? That it might be necessary for sound financial reasons? What was positive about his new thinking?
How hard did you try to discover why your line manager had undergone such a sudden change of heart? Could it be that your line manager, concerned about his career prospects, is keeping in with the new CEO – and thus is very disturbed by your apparent lack of cooperation? If so, what might be an effective way to respond?
A key to collaborative negotiating is to prevent personalisation, yet you may have made it easy for headquarters to personalise the problem rather than treat it as an issue. Did you consider how your line manager perceived your response to the changes at END POVERTY? Is it possible that you were perceived as a blocker to change and progress? You were refusing to come on the new courses. You had made it clear to him that you did not agree with the new changes. You were rallying other co-directors against Head Office policy.
Your negotiating tactic was initially avoiding, moving to forcing but from a weak position. Collaborative negotiating means finding solutions that satisfy the interests of all parties; that clearly required taking an active part in the change process which was central to the CEO's interests.
Perhaps most important, you were very slow in building allies who might convince the CEO that a more balanced approach was in his interest. Your lobbying of codirectors was very effective – should you have done this earlier, instead of concentrating on your own country? Could you have worked with them to develop consultancy in your part of Africa, giving it a high profile? This would have been an overt demonstration of your support for the new policy. Also, it may have enabled you to informally support capacity building and other development activities.
Did you consider building up your network of contacts at Head Office and working with them to develop an effective strategy for working with the new policy while still arguing your case?
Finally, you did not make use of your good local contacts – in the projects and in the ministry – who might have lobbied embassies and others to stress the good work END POVERTY was already doing and how this should not be lost. Also, it should not have been difficult to convince the Minister for Water Affairs to accept a high profile consultancy – which would have made you seem a leader in the change process.
If you feel your strength was in working with local people and supporting their peacebuilding, then you should have been able to draw them into developing a collaborative negotiating strategy.
Overall, if you had been more collaborative and drawn in local partners, you might have done more than simply saved a few projects.
We have demonstrated the utility of lists in organising your understanding and responses in complex and conflict contexts. In this final article we introduce one last checklist of concerns to reflect upon and some simple rules to guide behaviour to maximise creative thinking in solving problems.
Read Article 14, linked below.
Click below to view Article 14 (0.08MB).