#33 Use A Policy Of Joint Escalation To Shift Organizational Culture


Regarding a joint escalation policy, there are two central aspects to what I mean. Firstly, conflict is generally held at the level where it originates in the organizational hierarchy. Secondly, if it is moved up the authority chain, it is done so in a collaborative manner.

This blog further explains joint escalation using two examples that represent two common organizational contexts. It concludes with some guidelines that will maintain a policy of joint escalation in those two contexts.


Joint Escalation


First Context:  Conflict occurs between two individuals on a team

When two team members are in a conflict, one or the other may engage in some back-door lobbying with the team leader. That is, one or both approach the team leader in private to bring the team leader’s support and decision-making authority to her or his side. Such attempts to sway outcomes indirectly should be redirected. The leader should ensure that the conflict is worked through by the two individuals either at a team meeting or between the two in private, with the outcome later reported to the team.

When approached in such a manner, a team leader could say the following (edited of course to fit the circumstances): “Jeff, you are going to have to work it out with Carl. I will arrange for some coaching in your conflict engagement practices if you wish. If I have to get involved in the decision, I will be disappointed. I will only do that at a team meeting…  It will be great for the team to observe and support the two of you in your conversation. We have much to gain from the two of you reaching a collaboratively generated plan.”

In holding them responsible, a team leader would encourage Jeff and Carl to develop their collaborative capabilities. The leader would also increase the likelihood of a creative gain for the team, and build capacity in conflict competence.


Second Context:  The conflict occurs between two individuals who are on different teams

When the two individuals in conflict report to different team leaders or managers, one or the other may seek support from his or her leader. In this case it is important that the team leaders collaborate with each other and respond in a coordinated manner that encourages resolution by their subordinates. If the leaders elect to work together on the differences, without their subordinates present, they can report how they reached their decision and use their process and reasoning as an opportunity to coach their subordinates.


These two examples together embody some guidelines for a policy of joint escalation:

  • Value conflict and the potential benefit of conflict engagement
  • Ensure team members are required to resolve differences themselves or with team support
  • If a team leader resolves a difference between two members, it is reported at a team meeting with an explanation
  • When individuals report to different team leaders, the team leaders should collaborate in supporting the individuals to address their differences
  • If the team leaders deal with the conflict themselves, they should use it as a teaching opportunity for their subordinates
  • Require team leaders to resolve a conflict between their subordinates at their level rather than taking it up another level in the hierarchy

A joint escalation policy is a relatively simple means to encourage a shift in an organizational culture from one of conflict avoidance to one that embraces conflict engagement.


I would like to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to leave a comment.



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2 Responses to #33 Use A Policy Of Joint Escalation To Shift Organizational Culture

  1. Andrew Hobbs says:

    Thanks Gordon!

    Very interesting! …what if the conflict is between a member (or members) of the team and the leader/leaders of the team?

    • Gordon White says:

      Hi Andrew,

      Thank you for your comment!

      If the conflict is up and down the hierarchy then it is in a different category. However, if either team member approached the person above the team leader, then that person above would encourage collaboration between the two below.

      When the power differential is a barrier to resolution or collaboration, it needs to be addressed. One way to do this is talk about its affect on the communication dynamic. Ironically, when a subordinate shows some deference to the power of the person above, she or he is less likely to feel a need to exercise his or her authority: “We both know that as my manager you can direct my work as well as supervise it. I am trying to achieve the objectives you set, but am running into complications. If you understood better what I am encountering, I think you might wish to modify your instructions. Could I explain to you what I am experiencing?”

      Thanks for your interest Andrew.

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