Home Concepts Decison Making & Problem Solving From Conflict to Collaboration: Creating Cultural Change Amidst Polarization

From Conflict to Collaboration: Creating Cultural Change Amidst Polarization

22 min read

When the greater good is thought about, usually it’s in relation to solving social issues or improving the conditions and opportunities for marginalized populations.  Yet, there are other situations that also fall into the context of greater good. One of them, the ability to heal long term  conflict between groups, is the focus of this article. When two oppositional groups must work together an environment composed of distrust, contention, and polarization is created. Changing the quality and dynamics of such a relationship requires building new skills, constructing venues for problem solving, and allowing for a different understanding of one another. This article describes an integrated process of learning, coaching, and facilitation that was implemented over four years in order to transform a highly contentious relationship between a company’s union leadership and its operational management teams into a collaborative, productive partnership.


When organizations unionize, it is generally due to a perception by the front-line employee base that a company’s officers, executive, and management teams are not taking care of ‘their’ people. This is evidenced by a long-running breakdown of trust, inequity, communication, and cooperation. Unionization, as a basic rule, does not occur in organizations in which employees are happy and feeling that they are valued. Airlines, such as the one discussed in this article, are great examples of unionized companies. In airlines, there are unions for flight attendants, pilots, maintenance technicians, and others.

When unions exist, contracts are the Holy Grail. For airlines, they delineate almost everything not regulated by the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA): pay rates, vacation, benefits, eating, processes for handling disturbances and critical incidents, hotel suitability, communication notification, uniform allowances and professional dress, food and beverage service, inclusion in company events and decision making venues, etc. Successful contract negotiations have taken as little as one year or as long as six years. Some contract negotiations collapse. The longer contract negotiation takes, the more likely the relationship between union leadership and company management is contentious.

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