Our remote working team conflict resolution policy

August 11 2015 | arielmstallings
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The Offbeat Empire is staffed by a team of contractors who all work remotely. Sure we're based in Seattle — but I'm the only person who lives here. The rest of the staff is in California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, New Jersey, and Michigan. We keep in close touch via Slack, and we're all nice people… but still: conflicts happen. This in mind, I thought I'd share the Offbeat Empire's official conflict resolution policy.

Conflict Resolution for Remote Workers

No shit: we all know conflicts are going to arise, and we want to do our best to have a process in place for when things get gritty.

If you're having a conflict with a fellow Offbeat Empire staffer, first flag that you're feeling frustrated:

Hey, it seems like we're disagreeing. Can we schedule a time to check-in about our goals?
Just identifying that you're hitting a road block is a great start. Then schedule a time to have a small summit to discuss the issue.

If you're having a conflict with a fellow staffer, Ariel is happy to be a part of the summit if you want a mediator, especially initially as we get used to the process. If you choose not to invite Ariel, that's totally cool! But do give her the heads-up that you'll be having a small summit.

If you're having a conflict with Ariel herself, then obviously she's going to be there.

Small summit agenda
Consider step 1 below before the meeting, and then try to follow this process, which leans heavily on one described in Virtual Team Success by Richard Lepsinger and Darleen DeRosa

  1. Describe what's important to you and why it's important.
  2. Compare _your_ understanding of what's important, with the other person's understanding of what's important.
  3. Identify common ground, and look for points of interdependence.
  4. Look for alternatives and solutions that meet both your needs/goals, and the other person's. Where is there common ground?
  5. Use active listening (paraphrase, ask questions, give balanced responses) to evaluate alternatives, resolve concerns, and improve ideas. Take notes.
  6. If an alternative isn't immediately available, temporarily remove constraints and propose new alternatives. The sky's the limit! What would be the most fantastical solution to the problem, and work your way backward.
  7. End the discussion by summarizing key points, and stating next steps.

If you can't find a solution, then the next step is definitely "Punt this to Ariel, and make her figure out how to fix it." Unless the problem is with Ariel in which case, it's time for an additional one-on-one discussion.

After the small summit
Send an email to all involved parties and Ariel summarizing key points and stating next steps.


The good news is that we haven't had an opportunity to use this yet… that in mind, I'd love to hear from other folks working with remote teams: do y'all have policies for how to deal with conflicts as they arise? What works best?