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What is Workplace Conferencing?

Conferencing involves a formally structured conversation between colleagues who are affected by conflict in the workplace. That conflict may be:

  1. The result of some harmful act about which there is no dispute, and/or
  2. Associated with many unresolved disputes between individuals, and/or groups in the workplace.

Whether there is no dispute, or there are many disputes, the Conferencing format enables everyone affected to consider:

  • What happened,
  • How each of them has been affected, and
  • What might be done to improve the situation.

Conferencing is consistent with principles of deliberative democracy. Everyone affected by the conflict is:

  • Encouraged to attend (participation);
  • Given an equal opportunity to speak (equity); and
  • Entitled to have issues they raise discussed adequately (deliberation).

The Convenor safeguards these principles of participation, equity and deliberation with a variety of authoritative techniques (non-tyranny).

Who participates in a Workplace Conference?

Anyone who has been affected by the conflict.

What happens during the Conference?

Participants are given an opportunity, in a specific sequence, to talk about what has happened, and about their current situation. Participants then consider together how the situation might be improved how specific harms might be repaired and how the group can minimise further destructive conflict. The Conference agreement is recorded in writing, signed, and a copy provided to each participant.

What are the outcomes of a Workplace Conference?

Outcomes can range from simply gaining a shared picture of the situation, and agreeing that some of what happened should not happen again, to a detailed plan for changing styles and systems of communication, improving relationships at work, modifying other practices and procedures, and reconvening to review progress.

How long does a Workplace Conference last?

The amount of preparation required, and the duration of the Conference, depend on the nature of the conflict, and on the number of people involved. Conferences dealing with simple cases of undisputed harm may last less than an hour. Conferences dealing with more complex situations may last for half a day, or more (with breaks). After preliminary interviews, the Convenor should have a sense of how long a Conference will last.

What are the advantages of this approach?

All those involved have an opportunity to talk about what has happened and how they have been affected. Significant conflict associated with superficial disputes can be identified, acknowledged, and addressed. The exercise generates new insights, a sense of procedural fairness, and an accurate indication of what now needs to be done if people are to move on, individually and collectively. Everyone learns from the experience and helps improve the situation.