Dysfunction: A New Discussion

I have been doing serial posting lately as I try to find subject matter you can use in leading, and along came a topic that is prime reading for the times we are in, that being the discussion of dysfunctional organizations and the prevalence of intractability in today’s society.  If you aren’t familiar with the term intractability, it comes from the word intractable, meaning “not easily governed, managed or directed.”

Intractability is used in the study of conflict management to describe situations where difficult and in some cases, seemingly impossible, hurdles exist to developing solutions.  In a number of fire service organizations around the nation right now, intractable goes a long way in describing the dysfunction of their relationship between labor and management.

This series will actually play out over three weeks, as there is a lot of subject material to discuss.  While that may seem long to you, in the history of intractable conflict, three weeks is a drop in the bucket.  The situation in a lot of these organizations has been developing over a long time and there are NO easy answers.  The basic issue in intractable conflict is mistrust, or in some cases, a total absence of trust.

If either side has been dealing unethically or inappropriately to the point where trust is unachievable, no amount of negotiating will help the problem in the short run.  There is hope, ever slight, but it is delicately balanced.  From a student of conflict management, that seems awfully cynical, but I am simply being realistic.  There are some cases where nothing short of starting over can ever fix the relationship.  People come to points in their lives where the culture they exist in is passed on, from generation to generation, and that hate and distrust is passed along as well.

However, while time moves along, sometimes a change in leadership (on either side of the conflict, or replacement of both) has facilitated a foot in the door, where trust could begin to be achieved again.  There are nations that I never would have considered to be at peace in my own lifetime that have maintained at least civil (an uneasy civility, but civil just the same) relationship between combatants as they progress through resolving their issues.  The key is that the leadership of both sides must push the shouting of the zealots out of their minds and focus on what actions must be taken to develop that trust again.  Bridgebuilding is very much in order.

So over the next three weeks, we are going to talk about conflict dynamics, toxic organizations, and some ideas toward making things work.  I intend to keep it interesting and of course, use some contemporary events to illustrate the challenges.  But while I will do that, any issues I use should not be considered as my advocacy for certain behaviors.  Just because I understand it doesn’t mean I agree with it.  The important part is that in order to solve problems, we first have to understand the perspectives of the participants, and while that may be uncomfortable for some people, there are some realities that have to be considered.

Hope you join us and share your own perspectives on the issues.

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