Archives for August 2013

Implementing an Interest-Focused Collective Bargaining Strategy

I was a professional Fire Fighter in the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), for many years before I got directly involved as a member of our Local’s negotiating team. Although I was always interested in our Association’s activities, and I regularly attended meetings, I never considered myself “involved enough” to run for any committee or executive position for those first 15 years of my career.

I’m not certain that there was any particular event that piqued my interest in becoming a member of our Local’s negotiating team, but I was frustrated over the regular cycle of failed negotiations and expensive interest arbitrations. It seemed to me, from the outside looking in, that history kept finding a way of repeating itself and that perhaps I could bring about some change to the process of negotiations.

As a newly elected member of our Local’s negotiating team in the mid 90’s, I eagerly approached every opportunity to learn about the issues and process as we approached a fresh round of negotiations. I was immediately taken aback with how often the question of “why are we doing that” or “why are we asking for that” was answered with “because it’s the way we’ve always done it.” It made no sense to me. The way we had always done it typically led to an impasse and, with strikes and/or lock-outs prohibited, we were then on to interest arbitrations. The inability to negotiate our own deal came at a great cost for our Local and municipality from both a financial and relationship perspective.

Public sector negotiations in Ontario were particularly contentious during these times, as the social contract years were coming to a close. The ruling provincial NDP government had frozen public sector wages in 1993 and labour organizations at both the provincial and municipal levels were anxious to make up for lost time. After suffering through several years of a wage freeze, the experienced members of our negotiations team were ready for a tough fight and the battle lines were drawn. Both sides took a hard-lined, principled approach to bargaining. I was puzzled by the lack of real communications and found the experience to be extremely frustrating.

After two rounds of negotiations on the Association’s side of the bargaining table, and before I could affect any change, I was promoted into a Senior Officer’s position and soon found myself on the other side of the table, as a member of the City’s bargaining team. Much to my dismay, I quickly discovered that I was right in my assumptions and that my new team utilized the same tactics and functioned under a similar philosophy to the Association’s. Both sides were stuck in their old ways, unwilling to change regardless of the cost. Intelligent, well-intentioned people were unable to change, in spite of the fact their battle-tested ways were not producing positive results, and had not in a very long time.

  • Both sides were submitting a long list of demands, afraid that if they didn’t have as many as the other side, they wouldn’t have as many “traders” and their losses would outnumber their gains.
  • Both sides stuck to unreasonable positions, afraid that they would be the first to “give in” and would appear weak.
  • The mood at the table was generally miserable. You couldn’t be “pleasant” or the other side may misinterpret that for “happy” and use that to state that you really don’t need what you’re asking for.
  • You didn’t dare share any more information than absolutely necessary; always holding all of your cards close to your chest.
  • The reason why you wanted or needed an item wasn’t important. Why was never shared and the why question was never asked. If an item was in your long list of demands, it was deemed important, whether you needed it or not.
  • Costs associated with any proposal were guarded like State secrets, without exception, and by both sides.
  • It was all or nothing, and winning was everything!

Yet who was really winning? Each side had wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years, only to have their collective agreement re-written by a board of arbitration. Decisions on business operations and the good and welfare of the employees were being made by a third party. Neither side was determining their own destiny, nor were they seeing their real interests met. No one was truly winning.

Benjamin Franklin has been credited with first coining the phrase, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” It was an insane notion to believe that repeating our same mistakes year after year would yield a freely negotiated collective agreement when it had so rarely done so in the past. While I’m pointing the finger at my teammates, it’s important to note as well that I wasn’t blameless. Over the years, with time spent on both sides of the table, I had picked up bad habits that were inhibiting me from effectively negotiating. Therefore, I took it upon myself to start the change by first altering my own bad habits.

I began by participating in seminars on successful bargaining skills. I read books and articles and finally had an opportunity to attend the Negotiation Skills program at Queen’s IRC. I came away from the program convinced that an interest-focused approach to bargaining was the ticket to successful negotiations and the key to breaking the bad habits back home.

Having sat through an interest-based bargaining seminar that was poorly received, while a member of the Fire Fighter’s Association Executive just a few years before, I knew that I could not walk in and change things overnight. I also felt that I could not announce a change in strategy. Instead of labeling the change as a shift to an interest-focused approach, I choose to subtlety introduce the changes, first in the preparation of our proposals and then at the bargaining table.

  • It’s not always necessary to label your new bargaining philosophy. Often a series of gentle nudges will work more effectively than pushing people in a direction they may not know they need to move in.
  • Know the people that you are dealing with. A thorough knowledge of their habits, wants, needs, desires and idiosyncrasies will help you to break those habits and tool your approach to getting them to buy into an interest-focused strategy.
  • It started with our management mandate. Gone were the “traders” that weighed down our proposals and wasted so much time. All items in our proposal package represented legitimate interests, and were truly needed. It wasn’t an easy sell to our team but it quickly sent a clear message to the other side.
  • As chief spokesperson on the management bargaining team, I started to ask the “why question” and listened to the answers, interpreting the interests of the Association in an effort to satisfy them while taking care of our own.
  • I took the time to explain our interests, whether or not the Association spokesperson asked for an explanation. It soon became clear that there were no traders or fillers. Our proposals all represented real needs.
  • I made every effort to be “nice” when possible, fully aware of the fact that the relationship both sides share outlasts our time across from each other at the bargaining table. That doesn’t mean we took the exercise any less seriously than in years gone by; we just didn’t sit stone-faced for the sole purpose of being miserable.
  • I shared costing data, including the cost of benefits.
  • Bargaining became a year-round activity. A thorough discussion of issues prior to formal negotiations meant we were not starting from scratch at the table, and that was a great time-saver.
  • A considerable amount of effort was put into identifying common interests and synergies, again, without labeling it as an interest-focused exercise.
  • We met as a team, post-negotiations, to identify what worked and why. Eventually, after some success, we did so with the other side as well.

I am not going to pretend that the transformation was easy or that we found instant success. However, we did successfully freely negotiate a collective agreement, on our own and without third-party intervention, during our first round of negotiations. As hard as old habits are hard to break, we proved it is not impossible. Our negotiating styles on both sides of the table have gone through a subtle transformation and we have successfully negotiated 12 consecutive years of collective agreements.

I have also witnessed a positive change in the day-to-day relationship between our senior management/HR team and the Association executive. A thorough review of the issues discussed at our regular labour/management meetings is a great way to prepare for an upcoming round of collective bargaining.

What was broken; appears to have been fixed!

About the Author

Andy MacDonald

Andy MacDonald holds Queen’s IRC Certificates in Labour Relations, Advanced Labour Relations, and Organization Development Fundamentals, and he participated in the program on negotiations at the Harvard Law School. Andy holds a Bachelor of Science degree and has also studied at York University and the Ontario Fire College.Andy MacDonald was a member of the executive of the Brampton Professional Fire Fighters Association (BPFFA), IAFF Local 1068, for many years before joining the management ranks. He is currently the Fire Chief with the City of Brampton, Ontario. While a member of the BPFFA executive, Andy participated in collective agreement negotiations and gained the union’s perspective. As a member of the negotiating team on the other side of the table, Andy now plays a key role as a chief spokesperson of the Corporation’s bargaining team. Andy’s insight into negotiations from both sides of the negotiation table gives him an interesting perspective into the dynamics of collective bargaining.

He spends much of his free time aiding in many charitable causes and was the driving force behind the construction of his dream, the world’s first Fire/Life Safety Education Centre in Brampton. Andy’s other charitable exploits include rappelling off the CN Tower in 1985 to raise money for a Toronto burn unit, earning him a spot in the Guinness Book of Records.

Organizational Design: Trusting in the 4-D process

The structure of any organization is key to its ability to function productively. In my role of chief executive officer for the Professional Association of Resident Physicians of Alberta (PARA), I was concerned that our organizational form wasn’t aligned with our intended function. My challenge was to take a group of volunteer resident physicians through a design process that would enable our organization to more effectively live its mission: representation for physicians completing further training in a residency program; advocacy for excellence in education and patient care; and optimal working conditions and personal well-being for all its members.

PARA had a number of organizational practices that led to a disconnect between what the organization had intended to achieve, and how it had evolved to achieve it. It was in this context that I, along with one additional staff member and one resident physician volunteer, found ourselves in Banff for three snow-filled days in December, keen to learn about the 4-D process of organizational design. Teaching the Queen’s IRC Organizational Design program was Brenda Barker Scott.

Within the first few hours of the session, my expectations were shattered. Here I thought I was going to get a ready-made template – all I would have to do is insert PARA into an existing governance model. Instead, after that first day, what I went away with was a better understanding of the path we had chosen. We were actually going to take stock of our organization – through the Queen’s IRC Blueprint for Organizational Effectiveness – and we were going to build our own governance model.

This revelation made me nervous, and set off alarm bells in my head; I distinctly remember at least three occasions during the program when I confided my concerns to Brenda, our organizational design guru. “How in the world are we going to get from where we are now to where we need to be?”

Brenda’s calm and confident response was always the same. “Trust in the process, Sarah. Try not to get fixated on the outcome.”

In this spirit, the three of us embarked on our design journey. We committed to trusting in the process; each time any of us got agitated about our yet-to-be-discovered outcome, we would anchor ourselves in Brenda’s wisdom to trust in the process – define, discover, design and do.

The define phase was marked by clarifying the issue at hand. The scope of our project focused on PARA’s infrastructure and our relationships. How could PARA be designed to better manage our volunteer turnover, transition periods, and nature of the work? How could PARA better develop and nurture networks between our members, volunteers, stakeholders and staff? During the define phase, involvement was clearly outlined – who would be involved and when, including what each groups’ responsibilities would be. Understanding PARA’s purpose and context was also a key component of this phase. To answer these questions, we looked to those who had chosen and elected to be involved – our leadership team, design team, contribution team and our contributing stakeholders.

In the discovery stage of this process, the design team was challenged to process all the information that had been gathered, and refine these ideas into discrete criteria statements for the organization. The team came up with seven criteria statements: PARA must be designed to… so that we can achieve… One example of a refined criteria statement is: PARA must be designed to recruit and build diverse leadership capacity so that we can be informed by distinct perspectives and have a collective voice.

From here, the design team was tasked with designing a new framework, which included new processes and policies for our organization. This stage was the heavy lifting, and required the design team to translate the newly developed criteria into the language of “how”; the how would clearly outline strategies for achieving the criteria. This translation included the development of brand new processes, groupings and linkages: a new elections process, reporting structure, committees and working groups, transition policies, and knowledge management infrastructure and protocol. Looking back, the design stage sounded so daunting, but because we didn’t get fixated on the outcome, the design criteria really spoke for itself and the “how” truly just flowed out of the process.

Next stage in the process was “do”. While this stage seemed to be a lot more straightforward, that wasn’t necessarily the case. At this point, only the design team understood what needed to be done. We needed all of those involved to understand and buy into the “what” and the “how”. Luckily, by design, through every step of the processes, we consulted, communicated and sought feedback. I remembered Brenda’s advice: check in often and tell a story: “Here is what we asked you; this is what you told us; here is what we did.” Consult, communicate, feedback, repeat – by the time we got to the point where we were asking our elected members to accept the new bylaws, getting them passed was easy.

This year will be the litmus test as PARA puts our new structure into action through a newly organized and empowered assembly of elected representatives. Our momentum and energy for success is high. Those involved in the project discovered that organizational design is an endurance test, and that Brenda’s advice was sound. You don’t get to the finish line by focusing on the end, you get there by diligent investment and trust in the journey – define, discover, design and do.

About the Author

 Trusting in the 4-D process

Sarah Thomas has recently moved on from her role as chief executive officer of the Professional Association of Resident Physicians of Alberta. Sarah provided leadership to the organization’s staff and volunteer board of directors for over eight years. Sarah is looking forward to starting a new role with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta in August, 2013.

Reinventing Perspectives on Organizational Change

Today’s business environment is dynamic and highly uncertain. To become and remain successful, organizations must successfully respond to constantly changing conditions. This paper will provide a brief overview of the various perspectives that have guided the field of organization development and change management, with sections that will describe practical application of change management intervention methods for targets of change, and understanding organizational change resistance.

This paper will also introduce the reader to a rich literature review to assist in understanding the breadth of this field, and while there is a great deal known in the area of organizational development and change management, there is a full range of issues still to be addressed. This provides the change practitioner with an overview of the approach and methodology used to identify the relevant literature from the peer-reviewed research literature, as I wanted to integrate the results of this review with an overall assessment of the implications of practical applications.

Download PDF: Reinventing Perspectives on Organizational Change

Building Teams: Exploring Teamwork in Fast-Paced, Dynamic Environments

Teamwork is the way we work in organizations. In our highly dynamic work environments, people are challenged to collaborate, almost daily, in service of efficiency, quality and innovation goals. Often, these challenges require coworkers from different units and with diverse skills, to quickly group and flexibly regroup as projects unfold. Unfortunately, most organizations are not designed for fluid, cross-boundary collaboration. To the contrary, the legacy of the formal hierarchy, with tightly defined job boundaries, serves to thwart, rather than promote teamwork across boundaries.

Below, I employ Kellogg, Orlikowski, and Yates’s (2006) trading zone analogy as a way to explore teamwork in fast paced, highly dynamic environments. Through their case study of teamwork in an internet marketing firm, we will see that practices promoting cohesion and stability amongst team members, are replaced by practices promoting interactivity and exchange. The lesson is that, as the formal hierarchy is supplanted by more flexible, networked structures, our prescriptions for teamwork must evolve to suit.


Anchored in Weber’s bureaucracy and Taylor’s principles of scientific management, most organizations are designed to emulate a simple machine. Machines are built for standardization, consistency and clock-like precision. As coworkers attempt to confront challenges at the intersection of their jobs, tightly defined procedures and decision rules, built to preserve the status quo, get in the way (Goldhaber, 2000; Morgan, 2006). Examples of failed attempts at cross-border collaboration abound. One needs to look no further than one’s morning newspaper for an accounting of the many systemic challenges confronting our education, healthcare and judicial systems, amongst others.

Against this backdrop, a new, and much more flexible and fluid approach to teamwork and workplace design is required. Instead of viewing the organization as a gigantic machine, how might we envision a workplace that seamlessly facilitates a dynamic network of interconnectedness? In answer to the call, Kellogg and colleagues (2006), offer the analogy of the trading zone.

The trading zone, they suggest, offers a view of the organization, and the people within it, as a complex, ever-evolving web of interactions. Just like traders connect to exchange goods, employees connect to exchange needs, ideas, and solutions. Interestingly, the notion of exchange does not imply permanent relationships or outcomes. What is important however, is the opportunity for coworkers to connect around shared interests, in a shared space, governed by a set of interaction processes. Through the lens of the trading zone, our understanding of teamwork shifts from designing stable, discrete, goal oriented units, to enabling an emergent, flexible exchange amongst interested colleagues.

The Trading Zone in Action

To arrive at their analogy, the authors conducted an in-depth field study of the coordination practices amongst members of a highly dynamic internet marketing firm. The firm was comprised of four distinct units—client services, project management, creative, and technology—the members of which formed temporary, self-organizing project teams. Given the intense time pressures and near perfect quality expectations, the work required the members to co-create in parallel, with changes in one area, for example client services, necessarily impacting creative services and so forth.

A number of practices were identified as helping members co-create products and services that met the evolving expectations of their clients. They are: 1) the use of collaborative online tools, 2) the use of common frameworks, 3) the use of plausible scenarios to compensate for imperfect information, and 4) the use of knowledge storage practices. All practices enabled members to experiment, in a trial and error fashion, to build and revise prototypical products as they learned their way forward.

Collaborative online tools enabled members to display their work in real time, making it visible and accessible to all members. In essence the collaborative online workspaces enabled members to work in parallel—a necessity due to time constraints—while at the same time making their work schedules, commitments, timelines, progress, and issues visible to others. Importantly, display practices created a timely, evolving archive of ‘what’s going on’ so that members remained ‘in the know’ and responsive to emerging issues.

Common frameworks and protocols guided members to complete and express their work in a form that was easily understood by all. The templates enabled members to begin work and play their part, with minimal upfront discussion. Given the protocols, members understood what needed to be done, by whom, in what sequence and how.

Plausible scenario building enabled members to begin work in the absence of full information and adapt as issues were clarified. Instead of waiting for perfect information, members created scenarios that provided just enough direction for members to define their assignments and proceed. Because the work was highly visible, each member was able to edit and revise the group’s work, as the details became known.

Knowledge storage practices enabled members to codify, reuse and combine existing knowledge—for example codes and presentations—in current projects, so that they did not have to reinvent anew. Members working with tight time frames were able to select know-how from a vast reservoir of past projects, repurpose it in existing projects, and display it online for all to build from.

Interestingly, to collaborate, members did not need to spend a lot of time and energy upfront, defining joint norms and building relationships. Together, these organizational practices enabled the project teams to form quickly and begin working on common client goals almost instantaneously. Further, the practices enabled members to work in parallel, and keep projects moving, even though they had partial information about the evolving needs of their customers. As a result, the community remained in ‘dynamic alignment’ as they learned their way forward.

What about conflict, politics and human dynamics you ask? Indeed, the authors found that the diverse values, interests and norms of members, along with occasional jurisdictional issues, caused tensions. Moreover, the fast pace and need to be constantly available created performance pressures. Yet, they reasoned, it was the common sense of urgency that created a sufficient force to keep the members moving forward in unison.


Is the trading zone analogy apt for all teams, in all contexts? Perhaps not. The internet marketing firm that Kellogg and colleagues (2006) studied needed to be designed for speed, in service of customized products. Relationships amongst members were secondary to speedy product development. Accordingly, the prescription of standard practices to enable fast and flexible experimentation fit.

To the contrary, your organizational challenges may require a stronger focus on relationship building, in order to first understand the common challenges before finding a way to confront them. What we can say is this. Today’s teams are no longer served by rigid structures and processes that assume predictable work and stable relationships. To meet our complex challenges, especially the ones at the intersection of multiple boundaries, organizations will be well served by adopting and experimenting with new, more organic and ecological analogies for teamwork and workplace design. Given the complexity of our challenges, teams need tools, workspaces and approaches that dissolve the boundaries and enable the requisite innovation, learning, speed, and flexibility.

About the Author

Brenda Barker Scott

Brenda is an facilitator on a number of the Queen’s IRC programs including Building Smart Teams, Organization Development Foundations, Organizational Design and HR Decision Making. A frequent presenter, Brenda has been a keynote speaker for the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Conference Board of Canada, the Human Resources Planners Association of Ontario and the Canadian Institute for Health Research.Brenda Barker Scott has extensive experience in all aspects of organizational development acquired over a twenty-year career in teaching and consulting. When working with leadership teams she combines strong theoretical knowledge with practical methodologies to ensure that the right people are engaged in the right conversations to design robust and workable solutions.

Brenda is co-author of Building Smart Teams: A Roadmap to High Performance. She is a graduate of Queen’s University and lives in Kingston with her husband and two sons.


Goldhaber, D. E. (2000). Theories of human development, integrative perspectives. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company.

Kellogg, K., Orlikowski, W., & Yates, J. (Jan-Feb 2006). Life in the trading zone: structuring coordination across boundaries in post-bureaucratic organizations. Organization Science (17) p. 22 – 44.

Morgan, G. (2006). Images of organization (updated edition). Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

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