I first was introduced to the concept of conferencing in workplaces in 1999 but it was in 2001 when I was invited to participate in one. Eighteen months after a workplace restructure, we were still living with conflict amongst a senior group of executives and tension existed with their staff. A series of intake interviews with all direct and subordinate staff was crucial in preparing us for the group conference. It was essential to get the right people in the room, not just those impacted directly by the conflict but those who made the decision about the restructure to understand their role in the situation.
I recall a few of us participating in several conferences as some of the issues existed in both the workplace and community settings. I saw the powerful AHA moments in these, where participants in the room, seemingly bystanders to those in the conflict were able to contribute and allowed for a better understanding of the impact the conflict was having on the team and interpersonal relationships and how the strategic decisions made remotely, played a significant role. Ultimately those decisions set the group up to fail.
It was refreshing to see decision makers take responsibility. The process validated people’s feelings and allowed the group to inform what needed to be changed resulting in less tension, a progressive plan and more consultation moving forward.
The reality is It can be difficult to confront conflict and the process may make you feel emotionally vulnerable to begin with, however, I have been using workplace conferencing as part of my practice for over a decade now and the feedback I receive is extremely positive. Best practice in this space is to create no further harm.