Crisp DNA

The inner workings of a rather different consulting company

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Conflict handling

Conflict is inevitable in any organization because, well, Humans :)

The way we deal with conflict is really important - some conflicts are healthy and productive and drive improvement - other conflicts are ugly and political and suck the soul out of the culture. We obviously want more of the former and less of the latter!

Conflict handling gets a bit tricky with organizations like Crisp, with everything bottom-up and no managers. We’ve done pretty OK so far, but we want to get better.

Inspired by the book Reinventing Organizations, we’ve learned that self-organization at scale really needs an explicit conflict handling strategy, a simple process that everyone needs to be bought into.

We agreed on this 3-step conflict escalation process:

Our conflict handling process

Step 1: I take responsibility for bringing up and sorting out any gravel with the involved person(s) ASAP, or accept it and let it go for real (= don’t complain). If someone brings up gravel with me, I will meet up.

… if the conflict didn’t get solved:

Step 2: Invite a facilitator/mediator that both parties trust. The facilitator’s role is to help the parties find a mutually acceptable solution, not try to force his/her own solution upon the conflicting parties.

… if the conflict didn’t get solved:

Step 3: Moose-head meeting at Crisp ASAP with the involved parties.

Gravel? Moose head? Huh?

Glad you asked!

Gravel is a metaphor for small annoying problems that, if left unfixed, will get worse over time. For example a piece of gravel in your shoe. Best strategy is to stop and remove it as soon as you notice it.

Moose head is a metaphor for a big ugly stinking thing sitting on the table. It brings the mood down, but it’s been around for so long that few people notice it any more, and those who do don’t dare to mention it or do anything about it.

The purpose of our conflict handling process is to catch Gravel before it becomes a Moose head!

How is it used?

The policy lives in a google doc and was “signed” by about 80% of the Crispers at the time (Jan 2015). We stick it up on the wall at our unconferences, as a reminder.

Now it is pretty much part of our culture, and we try to hold each other accountable for it. Things like - “Hey Joe, I hear you complaining about Lisa. So are you going to bring it up with her directly, or let it go?”