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

From Conflict to Collaboration: Creating Cultural Change Amidst Polarization

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Without third party intervention, the relationship continues to erode. Employees carry  moods such as resentment, discontent, distrust, and disdain. The only existing form of respect is disrespect. Conversations cease. Partnership is an unheard of commodity.

This article describes the process use to transform an airline’s organizational culture from a state or constant conflict into one of partnership that continues even today (January 2021). It provides a brief overview of the changes that occurred and the modalities used to create the change: coaching, facilitation, conversation, and learning.

Although multiple modalities were used, the overall context for the work was underpinned by a coach approach, specifically having the client issue and desired outcome central to everything we did and as the determinant of our next steps and approach. The coaches/facilitators did not have the answers. Yet, we knew that if we created the right environment and set an appropriate context, the solutions would emerge.

Establishing an Initial Baseline

The airline industry operates in a vulnerable dynamic. Changes in global economy, public fear levels, inconsistent fuel availability and costs, and consumer perceptions profoundly influence an airline’s financial wellbeing. Fiscal viability is the primary factor for determining bargaining agreements. When the company projects their fiscal viability as poor or uncertain, corporate officers ask employees for concessions such as reduced pay or benefits. When the company projects their fiscal viability as positive, the union leadership do their best to negotiate raises and increased benefits or participation in decision making for their membership.

Renee Freedman & Company was asked to intervene after four years of antagonistic negotiations.  A collective bargaining agreement had been signed. Benefits and compensation that had been previously reduced due to loss of business had not been restored although the airline had become profitable. Customer satisfaction ratings were the worst in the regional airline industry. Complaints were rampant among employees as well as customers. Contention, distrust, and misery dominated the mood. Union leaders were disheartened and angry about the terms of the new contract. Grievance hearings and arbitrations regarding unfair practices and contract infractions were at an all-time high.

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