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close this bookDesigning Human Settlements Training in African Countries - Volume 2: Trainer's Tool Kit (HABITAT, 1994, 182 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentForeword
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe lecture
View the documentVisual aids
View the documentQuestion and answer
View the documentDiscussion
View the documentDemonstration
View the documentSimulation
View the documentThe case method
View the documentCritical incidents
View the documentRole-playing
View the documentInstrumentation
View the documentBrainstorming
View the documentNominal group technique (NGT)
View the documentForce field analysis
View the documentAction planning
View the documentOther learning transfer strategies
View the documentPerformance analysis & needs assessment
View the documentTraining impact evaluation
View the documentTraining the staff to train
View the documentCoaching
View the documentTeam development
View the documentRole negotiation
View the documentIntergroup conflict intervention
View the documentOrganizational goal setting
View the documentA closing note

Intergroup conflict intervention

Learning Emphasis

Organization Focus

Blowing out the other person’s candle wont make yours burn any brighter.

- Anonymous

Modern organizations are extraordinarily complex. A glance at the organization chart of any human settlements organization, for example, will show numerous departments, divisions, and work units, each with its own set of functions, lines of authority and communications patterns. Behavioural scientists refer to this as organizational differentiation and specialization. Both are necessary for today’s organizations to achieve their purposes.


But organizational complexity comes with a price. While collaboration among work units is necessary for organizational effectiveness, collaborative behaviour is often thwarted. Instead, we’ve all seen situations where, if one work unit is to achieve its goals, another work unit is frustrated in its efforts. Competition for increasingly scarce resources can create friction and result in hard feelings among work unit managers. Frustrated goals can lead work units to develop negative stereotypes about one another, further alienating them, and leading to breakdowns in communication. One leading authority on organization behaviour describes these breakdowns in relations as follows:

Attempts to collaborate are minimal and the “game” frequently becomes one of “getting the other guy” or avoiding being “gotten” by him. Such a condition tends to perpetuate itself unless some intervention is made to try to change the win/lose, competitive condition to a win/win, problem-solving condition (Beckhard, 1969).

Most people are aware that considerable intergroup conflict exists in organizations. And they are familiar with the negative behaviours of groups in conflict. But few people know how to alleviate conflicts between groups or how to avoid the consequences of conflict. The use of an intervention strategy can help reduce misunderstanding between groups or teams in conflict and set in motion the conditions for collaboration and renewed contribution to organization effectiveness.


The confrontation meeting is designed to bring” together two work groups that depend on each other but are acting in ways that create misunderstanding and poor work relationships. The intention of the meeting is to open communications, uncover concealed resentments or mistrust, and cut down on inappropriate competition and intergroup strife. This involves a deliberate effort to bring to the surface any (garbage) that can block communications and to commit each group to specific actions intended to improve the relationship. The intervention seeks ways the two groups can work together more effectively toward common goals.

Third-party assistance is essential. A facilitator from outside the organization may be in the best position to serve as the third party although a facilitator from within the organization might have a potentially important role to play. Among the characteristics to look for in a third-party facilitator are these:

1. Good interpersonal skills,
2. Little or no influence over those involved,
3. High control over the venue and agenda,
4. Moderate knowledge of the situation and the people, and
5. The ability to remain neutral about the issues and the outcome.

The only requirement for initiating a confrontation meeting is the willingness of two work groups to address the strife and tension between them and to accept the assistance of a skilled facilitator. The process normally consists of four steps. The first step is issue identification. At this step, data about the issues as seen by members of each group are listed and reported. This is followed by change proposals or each group stating its ability and willingness to act on the other group’s expectations for change.

The third step is for each group to respond to the requests of the other group toward resolution and action planning. It is at this point that commitments are made by each group to specific changes in behaviour in response to the other group. Normally, these changes are reciprocal; that is, a change is offered by one group in return for a change by the other group.

The final step is called progress check. This takes place a few weeks later after enough time has passed to evaluate how successful each group has been in keeping its agreements. Just scheduling this meeting can stimulate group members to work harder to live up to their commitments.


It has been found that an intervention of this kind can be an effective way to work through areas of difference and to plan actions for better understanding and collaboration. The facilitator is a vital ingredient for facilitating a creative outcome by keeping an open mind, keeping channels of communication open between the parties, suggesting procedures and ground rules and helping the parties to “hang in there.” Typically these interventions produce action steps that, if implemented, committed to writing, and supported by regular follow up, can have impressive results in reducing inappropriate competition.


Beckhard, Richard, Organization Development: Strategies and Models (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1969).

A Confrontation Meeting Design


Reduce inappropriate competition and conflict in the relationship of two work groups that depend on each other.


1. Improve communication between the groups by uncovering concealed resentments and mistrust.

2. Identify specific actions believed necessary and desirable by both groups to improve the relationship.

3. Provide a reliable process for following through and reporting on commitments made at the meeting.

Time required

About six hours (one working day)


A comfortable meeting room large enough for both groups. A second room large enough for one of the groups to work independent of the other. Two chart pads and easels.


The confrontation meeting is carried out in three steps or phases with the assistance of a facilitator who is experienced in group process and is not a member of either group. Before the day of the meeting, the facilitator meets privately with the chief executive officer of the organization and with one or more representatives of each of the two work groups experiencing conflict. The purpose of these pre-meeting contacts is for the facilitator to become familiar with the conflict through the eyes of those who are parties to it and to gain their confidence.

Step One: Issue identification

The meeting is opened by the chief executive officer or his or her representative with optimism for the achievement of its objectives and utmost confidence in the facilitator as a competent guide and coach.

The facilitator begins by explaining the process and its objectives. Members of the two groups are asked to adjourn to separate locations to identify the issues. Before leaving, they are told to think about and discuss what it is about the other group that exasperates them, gives them trouble, or creates friction in work relations. The two groups are given two tasks to perform:

· First, each group is asked to list its concerns about the other group by number on sheets of newsprint. Each group is told to focus on behaviour - “what the other group actually does that makes us see them that way.” Each group is told to phrase its concerns about the other group with a series of statements, each beginning with such words as, “It angers/distracts/distresses us when you....” Members of each group are told not to strive for consensus but just to note their various feelings and attitudes about the other group.

· Secondly, each group is asked to develop a second list on newsprint, a list of speculations about what the other group will include on its list of concerns about them.

When both of these tasks are complete, the two groups are asked to come back together. A spokesperson for the first group reports its list of concerns to the other group - What irritates us about you...” while that group listens. Then a spokesperson for the second group reports that group’s list of concerns in the same manner. The same procedure is used by the two groups to report what they thought the other group’s list of concerns about them would look like. During the reporting, the facilitator discourages argument, debate or any discussion not directed simply at clarifying the meaning of the other group’s point of view.

Step Two: Change proposals

At this second step in the process, the focus is on using the data produced in the preceding step to find specific areas for improved work relationships. Members of each group are asked to adjourn to review the data and to pick several areas of concern about their performance mentioned by the other group - priority areas in which that group feels there is an urgent need for action by the other group to improve the relationship. As an aide to the groups in going about their work, the facilitator can offer these ground rules for contracting on work relationships:

1. All wants are legitimate - you are entitled to ask for anything you want from someone else, and they are entitled to do the same,

2. The other person has the right to say no to your requests and you to theirs, and

3. You don’t always get what you want nor does the other person, and that’s okay too.

The facilitator might also provide each group with three strategy options for responding to the issues raised by the other group:

1. That’s easy for us to do by....
2. We are “willing to do that, if you -will....
3. That is impossible for us to do, because....

The first of these responses is usually the result of being unaware of the effect one work group’s behaviour is having on another. The second is aimed at a negotiated resolution in which each party must be willing to give or give up something to get what they want. The third provides a basis for problem solving to discover a creative solution that is not readily apparent to either party.

Step Three: Resolution and action planning

At a plenary session, the two groups clarify and discuss their respective positions on the issues and what each group expects of the other. Resolution occurs when commitments are made by each group to specific actions in response to the priority issues raised by the other group. Responsibility for action planning, implementation and progress monitoring is assigned to appropriate individuals or sub-groups. How this step is carried out will depend on the nature of each change being raised and the type of resolution agreed upon.

Sometimes these changes are volunteered; that is, nothing is expected from the other group in return for making the change. Sometimes they are meant to be reciprocal; that is, the group offering to make a change in response to an issue raised by the other group expects that group to make a change in response to one of its issues in return. Sometimes there is an impasse; that is, a quid pro quo cannot be found right away. Resolution under these circumstances may require the parties concerned to meet separately, possibly with the assistance of a facilitator.

Normally, the meeting is closed with a caution from the facilitator that the hopefulness of many change experiences turns to disappointment when, after a period of time, nothing has changed. The facilitator goes on to point out that quick fixes don’t fix anything and that good results depend on resolute, long-term action. These closing remarks are made to encourage commitment and action-taking and to set the stage for a subsequent meeting to check progress.

Step Four: Progress check

At a later staff meeting or other meeting scheduled for the purpose, members of both groups meet with the facilitator to review the progress of each group in living up to agreements made for improving intergroup relationships. This meeting should take place in a month or six weeks after the confrontation meeting. Among the questions the facilitator might ask of each group to generate a discussion are these:

· What is the best thing that happened as a result of this meeting?
· What progress is being made on the agreements made?
· What issues still need to be resolved?
· Were there decisions made at the meeting that either side can’t live with?

Any actions to be taken as a result of this meeting are assigned to appropriate individuals and groups for implementation.