Our audience consists of corporations and personnel and managers involved in projects. The audience is primarily technical and skeptical of “soft approaches” to conflict management. Our interest is in conflicts within project teams and between corporate project teams and contractors committed to the execution and completion of construction projects. The conflicts we ask our audience to deal with include internal, client – contractor, or a combination of disputes.
We design case studies heavily emphasizing “real world” project subject matter the more experienced trainees have likely encountered and that the inexperienced will surely encounter. We ask them to identify the issues, plan a strategy for resolution, and ask them to conduct direct negotiations with a few nuances and caveats. All of our case studies are pre-litigation. In fact, one of our caveats is the parties either can’t, because the issue is internal, or with a contractor, have a relationship with a history of never having resorted to litigation.
Although we are mediators, we design our case study to revolve around direct negotiations wherein the participants are the “role players”. We ask the participants to use the means and methods that they find most natural with at least one nuance. The nuance is covered in a lecture in which we stress a critical project management negotiating skill. For example we have two case studies that revolve around the use of probing questions during conflict resolution.
Another technique we use in the case study is to encourage distributive negotiation is to make sure that at least one of the parties has a BATNA that discourages one side from achieving a win/lose result. Push too hard, and the result is a BATNA that the prevailing party will face is counter productive to project completion. We test the limits of direct negotiations.
We design our project team case studies to operate not only within the context of the project team but include the next level of management. For example the project team may be operating within the context of a senior management committee to whom the team is responsible for completion. We ask the team to make an initial report to the committee where senior management makes clear to the project leadership key objectives to be achieved. Upon conclusion of the negotiations the team reports not just the results but including alternative considered. We also ask the participants to evaluate each other in their counterparts use of the skill discussed in the lecture.
We ensure that the project team understands that litigation is an undesirable outcome. We stress that project completion is always an objective and that there is a time element that must be determined.
We recently piloted one of our seminars written within the boundaries of the above. We found it successful not only as a training tool but that it may also have merit as a tool for evaluating an organization’s existing skills in conflict management. We are currently looking at the opportunities that this use of a case study may present.
It is only upon conclusion of the teams report to senior management that we superimpose what role a mediator would play in the case study and present the additional benefits to the organization that a skilled practitioner would bring to conflict management.
We know we have to overcome the skepticism in our target market, including the feeling that resorting to mediation would somehow be perceived as “failure” on the part of project members. The perception of failure is a serious drawback. We’re studying just how strong that perception may be. We are working on several approaches to change that attitude through education and in convincing senior managers that they play a key role in managing this perception.
In conclusion we believe that in winning over our target audience training is an important tool. Teaching a critical conflict management skill and having the participants use the techniques in a “real world” case study is not only effective training but also helps cultivate the client bases interest in facilitated mediation as part of their conflict management inventory. The most important hook in this approach is a relevant and challenging case study that tests the limits of direct negotiations and answers the question of what other options are available.