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Organization Development ­ MGMT 628
Lesson 30
Interpersonal and Group Process Approaches
3. Third-Party Interventions
Third-party intervention focuses on conflicts arising between two or more people within the same
organization. Conflict is inherent in groups and organizations and can arise from a variety of sources,
include differences in personality, task orientation, and perceptions among group members, as well as
competition for scarce resources. To emphasize that conflict is neither good nor bad per se is important.
Conflict can enhance motivation and innovation and lead to greater understanding of ideas and views. On
the other hand, it can prevent people from working together constructively, destroying necessary task
interactions among group members. Consequently, third-party intervention is used primarily in situations in
which conflict significantly disrupts necessary task interactions and work relationships among members.
Third-party intervention varies considerably depending on the kind of issues underlying the conflict.
Conflict can arise over substantive issues, such as work methods, pay rates, and conditions of employment;
or it can emerge from interpersonal issues, such as personalities and misperceptions. When applied to
substantive issues, conflict resolution interventions often involve resolving labor-management disputes
through arbitration and mediation. The methods used in such substantive interventions require
considerable training and expertise in law and labor relations and generally are not considered part of OD
practice. For example, when union and management representatives cannot resolve a joint problem, they
can call upon the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to help them resolve the conflict. In addition,
"alternative dispute resolution" (ADR) practices increasingly are offered in lieu of more expensive and
time-consuming court trials. Conflicts also may arise at the boundaries of the organization, such as between
suppliers and the company or between a company and a public policy agency.
When conflict involves interpersonal issues, however, OD has developed approaches that help control and
resolve it. These third-party interventions help the parties interact with each other directly, facilitating their
diagnosis of the conflict and how to resolve it. That ability to facilitate conflict resolution is a basic skill in
OD and applies to all of the process interventions. Consultants, for example, frequently help organization
members resolve interpersonal conflicts that invariably arise during process consultation and team building.
Third-party consultation interventions cannot resolve all interpersonal conflicts in organizations, nor
should they. Many times, interpersonal conflicts are not severe or disruptive enough to warrant attention.
At other times, they simply may burn themselves out. Evidence also suggests that other methods may be
more appropriate under certain conditions. For example, managers tend to control the process and
outcomes of conflict resolution actively when they are under heavy time pressures, when the disputants are
not expected to work together in the future, and when the resolution of the dispute has a broad impact on
the organization. Under those conditions, the third party may resolve the conflict unilaterally with little
input from the conflicting parties.
An Episodic Model of Conflict:
Interpersonal conflict often occurs in iterative, cyclical stages known as "episodes." An episodic model is
shown in Figure 39. At times, issues underlying a conflict are latent and do not present any manifest
problems for the parties. Then something triggers the conflict and brings it into the open. For example, a
violent disagreement or frank confrontation can unleash conflictual behavior. Because of the negative
consequences of that behavior, the unresolved disagreement usually becomes latent again. And again,
something triggers the conflict, making it overt, and so the cycle continues with the next conflict episode.
Figure 39: A cyclical Model of Interpersonal Conflict
Organization Development ­ MGMT 628
Conflict has both costs and benefits to the antagonists and to those in contact with them. Unresolved
conflict can proliferate and expand. An interpersonal conflict may be concealed under a cause or issue that
serves to make the conflict appear more legitimate. Frequently, the overt conflict is only a symptom of a
deeper problem.
The episode model identifies four strategies for conflict resolution. The first three attempts to control the
conflict and only the last approach try to change the basic issues underlying it. The first strategy is to
prevent the ignition of conflict by arriving at a clear understanding of the triggering factors and thereafter
avoiding or blunting them when the symptoms occur. For example, if conflict between the research and
production managers is always triggered by new product introductions, then senior management can warn
them that conflict will not be tolerated during the introduction of the latest new product. However this
approach may not always be functional and merely may drive the conflict underground until it explodes. As
a control strategy, however, this method may help to achieve a temporary cooling-off period.
The second control strategy is to set limits on the form of the conflict. Conflict can be constrained by
informal gatherings before a formal meeting or by exploration of other options. It also can be limited by
setting rules and procedures specifying the conditions under which the parties can interact. For example, a
rule can be instituted that union officials can attempt to resolve grievances with management only at weekly
grievance meetings.
The third control strategy is to help the parties cope differently with the consequences of the conflict. The
third-party consultant may work with the people involved to devise coping techniques, such as reducing
their dependence on the relationship, ventilating their feelings to friends, and developing additional sources
of emotional support. These methods can reduce the costs of the conflict without resolving the underlying
The fourth method is an attempt to eliminate or to resolve the basic issues causing the conflict. As Walton
points out, "There is little to he said about this objective because it is the most obvious and
straightforward, although it is often the most difficult to achieve."
Facilitating the Conflict Resolution Process:
Walton has identified a number of factors and tactical choices that can facilitate the use of the episode
model in resolving the underlying causes of conflict. The following ingredients can help third-party
consultants achieve productive dialogue between the disputants so that they examine their differences and
change their perceptions and behaviors: mutual motivation to resolve the conflict; equality of power
between the parties; coordinated attempts to confront the conflict; relevant phasing of the stages of
identifying differences and of searching for integrative solutions; open and clear forms of communication;
and productive levels of tension and stress.
Among the tactical choices identified by Walton do those having to do with diagnosis, the context of the
third-party intervention, and the role of the consultant. One of the tactics in third-party intervention is the
gathering of data, usually through preliminary interviewing. Group-process observations can also be used.
Data gathering provides some understanding of the nature and the type of conflict, the personality and
conflict styles of the individuals involved, the issues and attendant pressures, and the participants' readiness
to work together to resolve the conflict.
The context in which the intervention occurs is also important. Consideration of the neutrality of the
meeting area, the formality of the setting, the appropriateness of the time for the meeting (that is, a meeting
should not be started until a time has been agreed on to conclude or adjourn), and the careful selection of
those who should attend the meeting are all elements of this context.
In addition, the third-party consultant must decide on an appropriate role to assume in resolving conflict.
The specific tactic chosen will depend on the diagnosis of the situation. For example, facilitating dialogue
of interpersonal issues might include initiating the agenda for the meeting, acting as a referee during the
meeting, reflecting and restating the issues and the differing perceptions of the individuals involved, giving
feedback and receiving comments on the feedback, helping the individuals diagnose the issues in the
conflict, providing suggestions or recommendations, and helping the parties do a better job of diagnosing
the underlying problem.
The third-party consultant must develop considerable skill at diagnosis, intervention, and follow-up. The
third-party intervener must be highly sensitive to his or her own feelings and to those of others. He or she
also must recognize that some tension and conflict are inevitable and that although there can be an
optimum amount and degree of conflict, too much conflict can be dysfunctional for both the people
involved and the larger organization. The third-party consultant must be sensitive to the situation and able
to use a number of different intervention strategies and tactics when intervention appears to be useful.
Finally, she or he must have professional expertise in third-party intervention and must be seen by the
parties as neutral or unbiased regarding the issues and outcomes of the conflict resolution.
Application 6 describes an attempt to address conflict in an information technology unit. How does this
Organization Development ­ MGMT 628
description fit with the process described above? What would you have done differently?
Application 6: Conflict Management at Balt Healthcare Corporation
Pete and Dan were managers in an IT department that was part of the information services group at Bait
Healthcare Corporation, a large organization that provided health-care products to a global market. Pete
was the general manager of the IT department and had been working in the unit for most of his 16 years
with Bait. The IT department had global responsibility for developing and maintaining the organization's
intranets, Websites, and internal networks. Pete ran his department with a traditional and formal
management style where communication traveled vertically through the hierarchy.
Dan recently had been assigned to Pete's department to operate a small experimental group charged with
developing e-commerce solutions for the organization and the industry. This was state-of-the-art
development work with enormous future implications for the organization as it explored the possibility of
sales, business-to-business and other supply chain opportunities on the Internet. Dan, in contrast to Pete,
had a management style that stressed the value of open communication channels to promote teamwork and
The biggest challenge in Dan's work was managing the transition from design into production. Senior
management at Bait believed that by assigning Dan's team to Pete's organization, the resources required to
manage this transition would be more readily available to Dan's group. In fact, it was generally agreed that
Pete's strengths complimented Dan's weaknesses. Whereas Dan was a better designer, Pete had operational
expertise that would help in bringing Dan's ideas online.
Unfortunately, the trouble started almost as soon as the assignment was announced. Although in front of
their bosses Pete had agreed to work with Dan to make the project a success, his support was lukewarm at
best. Dan and Pete had a history of conflict in the organization. Neither one respected the other's style, and
prior conflicts had been swept under the carpet, creating a considerable amount of pent-up animosity.
Operationally, when Dan's group needed resources to bring an idea online, Pete announced that all of his
people were busy and that he couldn't assign anyone to help. Similarly, anytime Dan needed access to a
piece of hardware within the IT unit. Pete made it complicated to get that access. Dan became increasingly
frustrated by Pete's lack of cooperation and he was quite open about his feelings of being sabotaged. His
complaints reached the highest levels of management as well as other members of the information services
After several frustrating attempts to speak with Pete about the situation, Dan consulted Marilyn, the vice
president for information services. Marilyn, like others in the organization, was aware of the conflict. She
requested assistance from the human resources manager and an organization development specialist. The
OD specialist met with Pete and Dan separately to understand the history of the conflict and each
individuals contribution to it. Although different styles were partly to blame, the differences in the two
work processes were also contributing to the problem. Pete's organization was primarily routine
development and maintenance tasks that allowed for considerable preplanning and scheduling of resources.
Dan's project, however, was highly creative and unpredictable. There was little opportunity to give Pete
advance notice regarding the experimental team's needs for equipment and other resources.
The OD specialist recommended several strategies to Marilyn, including a direct confrontation, the
purchase of additional hardware and software, and mandating the antagonists' cooperation. Marilyn
responded that there was no available budget for purchasing new equipment and admitted that she did not
have any confidence in her ability to facilitate the needed communication and leadership for her staff. She
asked the OD specialist to facilitate a more direct process. Agreements were made in writing about how the
process would work, including Marilyn meeting with Dan and Pete to discuss the problem between them
and how it was affecting the organization. But Marilyn did not follow through on the agreement. She never
met with Pete and Dan at the same time and, as a result, the messages she sent to each were inconsistent.
In fact, during their separate conversations, it appeared that Marilyn began supporting Pete and began
criticizing Dan. Dan began to withdraw, productivity in both groups suffered, and he became more hostile,
stubborn, and bitter.
In the end, Dan felt sabotaged not only by Pete but by Marilyn as well. He took a leave of absence based
on Marilyn's advice. His project was left without a leader and he ended up leaving the organization. Pete
stayed on, but staff at all levels of the organization were upset that his behavior had not been questioned.
Similarly, the organization lost a lot of respect for Marilyn's ability to address conflict. Losses in
productivity and morale among staff in many areas in the organization resulted from the conflict between
two employees.
Table of Contents:
  1. The Challenge for Organizations:The Growth and Relevance of OD
  2. OD: A Unique Change Strategy:OD consultants utilize a behavioral science base
  3. What an “ideal” effective, healthy organization would look like?:
  4. The Evolution of OD:Laboratory Training, Likert Scale, Scoring and analysis,
  5. The Evolution of OD:Participative Management, Quality of Work Life, Strategic Change
  6. The Organization Culture:Adjustment to Cultural Norms, Psychological Contracts
  7. The Nature of Planned Change:Lewin’s Change Model, Case Example: British Airways
  8. Action Research Model:Termination of the OD Effort, Phases not Steps
  9. General Model of Planned Change:Entering and Contracting, Magnitude of Change
  10. The Organization Development Practitioner:External and Internal Practitioners
  11. Creating a Climate for Change:The Stabilizer Style, The Analyzer Style
  12. OD Practitioner Skills and Activities:Consultant’s Abilities, Marginality
  13. Professional Values:Professional Ethics, Ethical Dilemmas, Technical Ineptness
  14. Entering and Contracting:Clarifying the Organizational Issue, Selecting an OD Practitioner
  15. Diagnosing Organizations:The Process, The Performance Gap, The Interview Data
  16. Organization as Open Systems:Equifinality, Diagnosing Organizational Systems
  17. Diagnosing Organizations:Outputs, Alignment, Analysis
  18. Diagnosing Groups and Jobs:Design Components, Outputs
  19. Diagnosing Groups and Jobs:Design Components, Fits
  20. Collecting and Analyzing Diagnostic information:Methods for Collecting Data, Observations
  21. Collecting and Analyzing Diagnostic information:Sampling, The Analysis of Data
  22. Designing Interventions:Readiness for Change, Techno-structural Interventions
  23. Leading and Managing Change:Motivating Change, The Life Cycle of Resistance to Change
  24. Leading and managing change:Describing the Core Ideology, Commitment Planning
  25. Evaluating and Institutionalizing Organization Development Interventions:Measurement
  26. Evaluating and Institutionalizing Organization Development Interventions:Research Design
  27. Evaluating and Institutionalizing Organization Development Interventions
  28. Interpersonal and Group Process Approaches:Group Process
  29. Interpersonal and Group Process Approaches:Leadership and Authority, Group Interventions
  30. Interpersonal and Group Process Approaches:Third-Party Interventions
  31. Interpersonal and Group Process Approaches:Team Building, Team Building Process
  32. Interpersonal and Group Process Approaches:Team Management Styles
  33. Organization Process Approaches:Application Stages, Microcosm Groups
  34. Restructuring Organizations:Structural Design, Process-Based Structures
  35. Restructuring Organizations:Downsizing, Application Stages, Reengineering
  36. Employee Involvement:Parallel Structures, Multiple-level committees
  37. Employee Involvement:Quality Circles, Total Quality Management
  38. Work Design:The Engineering Approach, Individual Differences, Vertical Loading
  39. Performance Management:Goal Setting, Management by Objectives, Criticism of MBO
  40. Developing and Assisting Members:Career Stages, Career Planning, Job Pathing
  41. Developing and Assisting Members:Culture and Values, Employee Assistance Programs
  42. Organization and Environment Relationships:Environmental Dimensions, Administrative Responses
  43. Organization Transformation:Sharing the Vision, Three kinds of Interventions
  44. The Behavioral Approach:The Deep Assumptions Approach
  45. Seven Practices of Successful Organizations:Training, Sharing Information