This section focuses on disputes that occur internally, such as those within management bodies and those between staff and management. Another chapter of this manual outlines how to develop dispute management procedures to deal with breaches of consumer's rights or consumer responsibilities.
The following steps outline how to develop formal procedures for working through internal conflicts within a community organisation.
Step 1 Policy
Ask lots of questions and consult with staff, clients and other organisations before you decide on and formally adopt rules or policies regarding how disputes will be managed in your organisation. Write these down and make it widely known that these are the procedures to follow if and when a conflict arises. You may decide to include some of the following ideas:
- Disputes and conflict will be dealt with immediately
- Time must be made at management meetings, staff meetings or staff/client meetings to deal with disputes, or alternatively arrangements should be made to call a special meeting when required
- Disputes are dealt with at meetings according to agreed procedures
- The consumers of the service are protected at all times from the effects of the dispute
- Complaints or grievances from people involved in the organisation are raised and dealt with, within the organisation as comprehensively as possible
- Decisions are always made keeping in mind the best interests of consumers and the organisation as a whole
- An outside, neutral person/facilitator will be called in to work with the group to solve the dispute if all parties involved agree.
Step 2 Operation
Once you have decided on some policy guidelines for conflict, you will need to decide on how you put these into practice. Here are three possible options that can be used:
- "Conflicts" can become a regular management committee meeting agenda item, giving a formal opportunity to raise issues. Alternatively, conflicts can be automatically referred to a management committee special meeting which can be set up to deal with them as soon as they occur. These meetings deal with the issues according to agreed policies and procedures.
- A disputes contact person is identified who is acceptable and accessible to everyone in the service. Their role can be limited to acting as first point of contact, or can encompass a wider role. This person may attempt to resolve the dispute, but whatever is finally decided needs to be ratified or agreed to by the entire management committee.
- A Disputes Sub-Committee is set up by the management committee. In a similar fashion to the contact person referred to above, this sub-committee has strict terms of reference and acts according to agreed policies and procedures. When attempting to resolve a dispute, the subcommittee can be authorised either to make decisions or to make recommendations which would be agreed on by the whole management committee at a later date.
Step 3 Process
Once the policy framework has been set up detailing the broad rules for dealing with conflicts, then establish some procedures that the sub-committee, management committee or the contact person will follow. Establish these to best suit your organisation, and include the basic principles of justice. The following issues need to be considered for inclusion:
- Fair and clear warnings
- Clear communication
- Clear and democratic decision making
- Appropriate time limits for whatever you decide.
To develop procedures to deal with internal disputes, consider these questions:
- How is contact to be made by those involved in the dispute/complaint?
- Is it verbal or in writing?
- When is contact to be made regarding a dispute or complaint?
- Who is involved in the first attempt to resolve the dispute?
- How is this to be achieved?
- Does this involve all parties - and if so, together or separately?
- What are the possible outcomes of this first attempt to resolve the dispute? These might be written or verbal warnings, compromises, written and signed contracts, recommended action or changes to policy.
- How are changes to be reviewed at the end of the set period?
- If the first attempt to resolve the dispute fails entirely, what is involved in the second attempt to resolve the dispute?
- How is the second attempt conducted?
- What are the possible outcomes of this second attempt to resolve the dispute?
- What appeal structure should be set up, if required?
- Set out your formal process clearly in writing. Your process might look something like the following example.
If a dispute arises:
- The staff are authorised by the contact person, sub-committee or committee to make the first attempt to resolve it and a date (2 weeks) is established to see whether it has been solved.
- If the review (by sub-committee, contact person or committee) shows that it is not resolved, the second attempt to resolve the dispute is dealt with by the contact person, or the sub-committee or the management committee representatives.
- If still unresolved, the dispute is taken to the management committee at a general or special meeting for a decision.
- Appeals can occur within the wider management committee and involving outside representatives if any of the parties desire.
The Queensland Government Department of Justice and Attorney-General operates a Dispute Resolution Branch providing trained mediators who can help parties involved in a dispute to reach a settlement that is satisfactory to them all. The mediators act as a neutral third party, clarifying the issues, keeping the discussion on course, and ensuring that everyone gets a chance to make their point. Mediators do not give advice or pass judgment, and they will help the parties put an agreement in writing so its terms are clear.
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