Organization as Bystander

Corporations, organizations, faith communities are all like a big family. People spend a lot of time together, have mutual interests, and develop intimacy with each other. The same interpersonal dynamics that arise in families arise in larger groups given sufficient time and interpersonal connection.

Much of the interplay between persons within the organization has nothing to do with the purposes of the organization itself. This is just the way people are with each other. From time to time the level of conflict between persons may rise to such a level that the behavior of each is negatively impacting the smooth and effective operation of the organization. When this happens, something has to give. Usually the tension is abated by someone leaving the community. They may resign or be fired or otherwise forced out.

But sometimes both parties to the conflict are vital to the operation of the organization. Sometimes resolving the conflict is the best outcome. If they are each committed to the organization, its mission, and their place in it, then they may be willing to discover and address what they are each doing which fuels the tension and disrupts the greater good.

They may not be able to see the damage they are doing. They may need to have someone whom they recognize to be an authority point out to them the impact they are having. They may have to be held accountable for their behavior. Thus the typical process in these instances will likely look something like this:

  • Identify the person or office in authority who can name the problem such that all of the parties can see their involvement in it and can be clear about the effect they are having on others.
  • Hear from the parties to the conflict what they each see as the problem from their own perspective and clarify if this is a problem with the person or with the organization itself.
  • Identify ways that each party can transform their own approach to the conflict such that they are more likely to get what they need. Support them in their own transformation.
  • From time to time it may be helpful to actually bring the parties together to address the conflict in the presence of a mediator.
  • Confirm with the authority in the organization that the conflict is actually being addressed and come to a clear agreement about what will happen when it recurs.


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