Monday, 12 April 2010

Is Third Party Intervention Always Ethical?

The case study for my assignment is 'Dorset Performance Management Partnership' so this entry will study third party intervention from a business perspective. DPMP is made up of Dorset County Council and all of its borough and district councils, collectively serving a population of 700,000.

Third party intervention is a classic conflict resolution method, and is usually called upon when conflict has arisen and is out of control. The following types of third party intervention are the most common:
  • Mediation: a procedure whereby a third party assists disputants in achieving a voluntary settlement
  • Arbitration: a procedure whereby a third party holds a hearing, at which time disputants state their position on the issues, call witnesses, and offer supporting evidence for their respective positions (Thompson, 2005, pg 348)
However third party intervention is not as straight forward as that. Who the third party is makes a huge difference.

During the lecture we acted a role play involving a dispute between an employee who had made a formal complaint against her supervisor. The third party 'mediating' the dispute was the manager. The manager's role was to encourage the two to resolve their differences, clarify the situation and discover whether there was cause for a formal complaint.

Due to the authoritative position of the third party, the conflict resolution can be described as Med-Arb: "Mediation - Arbitration consists of two phases: (1) mediation, followed by (2) arbitration, if mediation fails to secure an agreement by a predetermined deadline. The same party serves as both mediator and arbitrator. Thus, arbitration is only engaged if mediation fails" (Thompson, 2005, pg 349).

Third party intervention often takes place within organisations, so the mediator cannot be considered impartial. In this instance, the manager may not have wanted to fire a loyal supervisor who he may be friends with. Equally the manager may have been concerned for the organisation's reputation if the allegations go further. In this respect, the third party was biased.

The DPMP made the decision to procure a new performance management system across all its councils and chaired meetings with representatives with each council to collaboratively decide what their needs from the system were. However, it seems that the meetings were chaired by a member of Dorset County Council - an authority with its own agenda and needs from the new system.

Both case studies raise the question as to whether third party intervention with an involved party is truly successful in negotiating a fair outcome. It depends from which perspective it is viewed - it may benefit an organisation to send in their own representative rather than recruiting an impartial party to settle the score. However my argument is that it is not ethical and so may backfire on organisations that use this method for high risk cases.

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