The Negotiator Magazine

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B. Between Bargainers: Setting A Stage That Fosters Success

The Danger: As the negotiation teams began their next round of negotiations, they faced the difficult task of creating a process that would not revert to acrimonious and stagnant pre-strike negotiation approaches. This was difficult because anger and mistrust simmered just beneath the surface for many people. In addition, these negotiations were vital; they would make or break the collaborative efforts between union and management.

Any one of the following factors might have led the bargaining teams back to a strike:

Effective actions bargainers took to defeat these possibilities included:

Wise Choice of Team Members.

The union and management bargaining teams were chosen carefully. They consisted of some experienced bargaining members who could provide substantive expertise. New members were who could help break the historically poor communication and relational patterns between the teams and provide fresh ideas were also chosen. High-level influential decision makers on each team (then Deputy Superintendent Frank Till and union executive director Robin Rose) helped develop buy-in and leadership. The chief negotiators (Rose for union and Ruth Peshkopf for management) were advocates and practitioners of the interest-based approach. Finally, critics of the interest-based approach were also chosen, as they would be ensured of an insider's view of the process. Thus other skeptics outside the room could be assured that individuals they trusted were a part of the process, able to view it critically and "keep it honest" lending credibility to the process as a whole.

Facilitation. Since the process by which people negotiate can determine the success of any deal, it is essential to think consciously about how to set up the bargaining process. The bargaining teams had already tried an interest-based approach, without continuous outside facilitation, with very mixed results. This time, the teams brought in neutral facilitators as experts in the interest-based approach to keep the group on track to meet its goals. The negotiation teams later identified the third party facilitators as crucial to helping parties through the rough periods.

Level-Setting. The bargaining teams did not jump right into bargaining. Instead, they spent three days getting on the same page, and getting to know each other and the facilitators, as they were trained in and practiced collaboration techniques. During that time they also embarked on their first joint project: They created a Procedural Contract, a document that identifies the goals of the group and the rules they would use to reach their goals. Categories included: how individuals would discuss their negotiations with parties not in the room; how they would behave when they got angry; and how they would make decisions.

Agreement on How to Interact. A Procedural Contract can be an essential tool for establishing a collaborative environment for three reasons. First, it serves as a guide for one's own behavior in tough situations. Second, it removes some fear and uncertainty about other people's likely actions. In addition, showing the document to key stakeholders, such as each side's board, helps the third parties understand and buy into the "rules of the game," so they can consciously support, rather than inadvertently undermine, the collaboration process. In San Diego, the Procedural Contract was the group's first successful collaboration, and it set the stage for later, larger successes.

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Copyright © 2002 Grande Lum and Monica Christie