All of us at some point in our WHO careers have had some sort of conflict in the workplace – it seems to be a fact of life.
We are an international organization with a multi-cultural staff with different goals and needs, so hardly surprising that we don’t all see eye to eye. Conflict in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, and as long as it is resolved effectively, it can lead to personal and professional growth. The good news is that by resolving conflict successfully, we can solve many of the problems that it has brought to the surface, as well as increasing understanding of ourselves and others.
In May the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) and Human Resources Management organized a training workshop for key staff across the Organization (HQ and regions) in “Mediation and Facilitation Skills”. Pictured here left to right are some of the workshop participants Gitte Andersen Havn, Ombudsperson, EURO; Issa Sanou, Ombudsman, AFRO; Susana Meza, HR Specialist, PAHO; Donna Douglass Williams, HQ Ombudsperson, Art Pesigan, Ombudsman, WPRO; Aba Ankrah-Ntambwe, Coordinator a.i., HRD/ HPJ; and Lihong Su, Administrative Officer, NMH/WHO Kobe Centre. In all, twenty seven participants completed the course, with staff representing all WHO regions, in addition to several HQ staff members.
The price of inaction is high. Unresolved, long-running conflicts result in antagonism, break-down in communications, inefficient teams, stress, low productivity and absenteeism. Unresolved conflicts make people terribly unhappy at work and cost the Organization dearly. Donna Douglass Williams, HQ Ombudsperson, explained that with more issues of conflict arising, it was time to look at ways of training key staff in handling these disputes in a more informal way, through discussion-based problem solving, rather than the formal complaint resolution process such as the Regional and HQ Boards of Appeal. “This kind of approach is really suited to an international organization” she said. “It gives people an opportunity to discuss their issues and come up with a solution. If you are filing an appeal, you are putting the problem and solution in the hands of someone else. This model allows for more rich discussion, to better understand how the parties view the problem and give them ownership of the solution.”
The workshop was designed to provide an overview of the nature and dynamics of confl ict, as well as giving participants the skills to effectively analyze conflict situations, listen, reframe, and manage cross cultural disputes, with a final goal of coming up with solutions that meet the needs of all. So what are some of the main problems here at WHO? Aba Ankrah-Ntambwe, Coordinator a.i., from the Department of HR Management, Policy and Administration of Justice (HPJ) explained that many problems arise through PMDS assessments with staff disputing ratings and comments provided by their supervisors. Other issues arise through uncertainty about contractual situations, entitlements, and non-selections and retirement. Art Pesigan, Ombudsman from Western Pacific Regional Office spoke of issues of civility. “People have different ways of working and some think that their colleagues or supervisor are not treating them respectfully” he explained. Gitte Andersen Havn attending from the European Regional Office said “that unfortunately some conflicts are so serious that they have an impact on staff health and lead to absence on sick leave.”
The workshop was facilitated by the U.S.- based Consortium on Negotiation and Conflict Resolution (CNCR). The interactive, multimedia session included role-play scenarios where participants were given “hands on” opportunities to practice mediation and facilitation skills. “We are hoping this will be the first phase of a training programme we can take out to the regions. It is important for all staff to be aware of their options for resolving concerns informally” said Donna. “Now we have a group of staff across the Organization who understand these processes, and can play an active role as informal discussion facilitators. The goal is to get people talking in a respectful way about how to reach a resolution where each person’s interests are met.”
If you would like more information on related training that has been facilitated by the OMB (“Conflict Competence” workshop) in the last few months, please click on the link below. Additional information is available at: http://intranet.who.int/homes/omb/