There is an article in a journal called OD Practitioner (which is the journal of the Organization Development Network, a professional association to which I belong) about conflict resolution, written by Ken Cloke and Joan Goldsmith (who happen to be friends of my Mom). It is a great article that looks at a very tough conflict situation in school system that they worked on. At the end of the article, they make a very important point:
In most organizations, employees tell stories about atrocities committed by their managers, and their powerlessness working in an autocratic, bureaucratic hierarchy. Meanwhile, managers tell stories about passive, negative, irresponsible employees who are out to get them, and about the lack of support they receive from the organization. Both sides feel misunderstood, powerless to solve their problems, stuck, and unable to make the first move.
Cloke and Goldsmith make the point that their intervention in that school system was two-fold. At one level, they set up a process where the parties involved could actually work collaboratively to come up with solutions to the very serious problems they faced. But on a deeper level, they also gave them a process that proved to the participants that regardless of the problem, the two groups could, in fact, work together. It is very powerful to help a group get “unstuck,” even if they don’t solve all their problems right there and then.