Stewarding Conflict - Part 2

Published December 3, 2019

A few weeks ago, I published Part 1 of Stewarding Conflict to explain different ways that people hold conflict. Our lawyers at SLSG are experienced at addressing conflict through the 'legal' lens by using policies and formal and informal dispute resolution techniques. This process is successful and applicable in many cases - but it can also be adversarial for some and harmful to others. In my blog I was inspired to share what we believe to be another way to support our clients as they look to manage through conflict in a healthier and more sustainable way. Increasingly, sport stewards are looking to us to help them work through conflict with the support from Integral Coaches. In the past six months, we have supported almost a dozen clients and their staff, coaches, and board members through naturally occurring conflict via the process described below.

  • Step 1: Set the tone – This ‘intake conversation’ helps the client understand the process we will be designing to work through the conflict. This normally takes a few conversations with the CEO/ ED to establish the parameters of the engagement and helps uncover their own assumptions about conflict and identifies their desired outcome. We often explore their own values and that of the organization they are serving. This gives us shared language that we can use throughout the process.
  • Step 2: Create a high trust container – Trust is the ‘one thing that changes everything’ says Stephen Covey, author of the book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. To support high trust conversations, we need to deliberately invest in creating a ‘way into’ this experience for those involved. This is carefully shaped by the language that is used to introduce the process, the careful attending to the uniqueness of each individual and is supported by years of training as empathic companions.
  • Step 3: Make it personal – Each client gets a chance to share their truth with the Integral Coach. This one-on-one session continues to build a high trust container and serves to clarify their assumptive worldviews. These conversations often elicit important ‘aha’ moments that helps them own their own role in the conflict and has them considering what might be true for the other person.
  • Step 4: Find areas of convergence and divergence: A critical part of this process allows us to uncover shared values, areas of common interests and where the clients are getting stuck. A briefing document is shared with both clients that summarizes what the Integral Coach has observed and provides a neutral playground for us to further explore as a group. This careful attending to language is instrumental in unlocking deep-seated beliefs about the rightness of their perspective and the wrongness of the other person’s actions. Here’s why this part is so critical. We judge others by their behaviours yet judge ourselves by our intentions. This briefing document helps reveal the other person’s intentions and often things shift as a result of people gaining clarity and feeling heard, not judged, and truly seen.
  • Step 5: Bring people together – When we are ready to meet as a group, the Integral Coach creates an inviting and safe environment for the clients to continue to share, understand, and begin to map out a way forward. Sometimes this step occurs after having had a single conversation with each of the clients. Sometimes it takes more time before we can unravel the years of suppressed disappointment, hurt, and resentment that can set in when people stay silent. This is a crucial turning point in the process. It is often hard to predict how many sessions will be needed and we are getting better at predicting the number based on the complexity of the conflict and the motivation of those involved to resolve the issue. Most of our sessions are done using social technologies which help reduce cost and which provide a safe environment for people.
  • Step 6: Make a plan – Once we have agreement with how to proceed with the conflict, the Integral Coach writes a summary document that is reviewed by the clients and then, when finalized, shared with their supervisor. This document provides key information including shared principles, what was discovered, what still needs to be attended to, and how to steward conflict in the future. This plan is signed by both clients as a commitment letter signaling their desire to work alongside each other.
  • Step 7: Follow-up – The Integral Coach provides options for the organization depending on the nature of the engagement and how long the conflict has been left unresolved. This could include follow-up with each of the clients individually, scheduled follow-up check-ins to continue to support them moving forward, and/or as needed sessions depending on how things are unfolding. This part is always co-created with the client and the CEO/ ED depending on their willingness to participate and the available budget.
  • Step 8: Hold people accountable: This part of the process is always a bit tricky. Holding conflict as stewards requires specific muscles and not all leaders have these muscles well flexed. Our role and aspirations as Integral Coaches is to elevate the consciousness of humanity through our work in sport. As a result, we often see how challenging it is for the CEO/ ED to hold themselves and others accountable to managing inter-personal issues effectively. From our experience, in order to be sustainable, people need to commit to investing in a process that supports them through conflict by building the metaskills required to thrive in the 21st This approach is not a one fix wonder but rather an investment in shaping leadership skills that will reap high dividends over time. The alternative is known to most of our clients and continues to be available to you through our legal support team. Mediation, arbitration, hearings, and court decisions are common ground for all sport leaders. What we are offering here is a third way option.
  • Step 9: Invest in high trust cultures – On our wish list of things we hope for includes a deliberate investment by leaders in strengthening their cultures. At the SLSG we are proud to be working alongside a number of leading organizations to support high trust cultures including the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport for its pioneering work in the areas of Risk Management, Management by Values and the Sport Leaders Retreat; the Canadian Olympic Committee for its work on bringing sport leaders together as part of the Olympic CO-OP; and the Canadian Paralympic Committee to invest in a high trust culture through the use of the NOVA Profile. However, we believe that more needs to be done to incentivize sport leaders to make high trust cultures a priority.
  • Step 10: Reward courage: What gets rewarded gets done. We believe that funding agencies, sponsors and membership ought to be supporting and rewarding organizations who intentionally invest in cultivating high trust cultures. We know through research that podium performance can be traced back to that ‘one coach who supported me’ and when asked, that ‘one coach’ often shares that they were supported by ‘that one organization who created an environment for them to thrive’. When asked, the CEO/ ED often shares that ‘that one Chairperson gave me the chance to shine and supported me throughout.’ We believe that in order to maintain its relevance and to navigate increased levels of complexity, stewards must intentionally create thriving cultures where resilience, courage, adaptability, open-mindedness and compassion are the ‘must have skills’.

What is interesting for us to share is that it is becoming easier to offer the above as an option. Sport leaders are open and saying yes to navigating conflict using alternative methods. Some of the learnings from our early work in this area include the following:

  • You need to be ready for the long game. This kind of stewardship is concerned with sustainability, integrity, and character. This approach is not a quick fix but then again, legal options can be time consuming, energy depleting, and expensive.
  • People are complex and this approach helps to personalize what is often a personal experience. Conflict arises as an output of feeling uncomfortable with other people’s ways of being. This approach sees the individual within a holistic process and supports them through it in a co-created way forward.
  • Change takes time. It takes time to heal old wounds and time to shift perspective. It takes time to rebuild trust and time to flex new leadership muscles. When trust is low, everything takes longer, and costs rise. Investing time, energy and resourcing to rebuild trust will pay dividends in the not so distant future.

We believe in supporting sport stewards to have customized ways to help achieve their potential. Whether you are a coach looking for mentorship, a CEO looking for ways to build new leadership skills, or a young sport leader wanting to elevate your capacity, please drop me a line at to explore how we might be of service.

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