"It is a pleasure and privilege to write this letter of reference. Having worked with many facilitators, mediators, and conflict resolution specialists throughout the years, no one has come close to matching the problem-solving skills sets, tact, intelligence, and integrity Ms. Wood brings to the table. Her ability not only to focus on a principled negotiations process, but also on the needs of the individuals who are involved, is truly remarkable.
By way of background… Over a 25-year period, I worked in a number of different teaching and administrative roles for the Webster Central Schools. It is a suburban district with over 9,000 students and 800+ professional staff. In 1999 I was appointed as Superintendent of Schools. At the time, externally the district was well regarded; internally it was tearing itself apart. Coincidental with my appointment, the ThoughtBridge team was hired to facilitate the teacher negotiations process, which was just beginning.
The district had a long and storied history of exceptionally poor teacher-administrative relations. This had led to a series of highly dysfunctional contract negotiations and literally hundreds of grievances. Trust was almost non-existent and most interactions were highly emotionally charged as well as staunchly positional. The constant conflict prevented us (both teachers and administrators) from effectively focusing on student needs and performance. Implementing even the simplest change was a major challenge.
As you may well imagine given past interactions, both sides were skeptical as to any benefit that might result from employing a third party to assist with negotiations. Five days after I began as Superintendent, the negotiations began.
The Process… The ThoughtBridge Group operational system, which is largely based on the Harvard Negotiations Project, was carefully implemented. Prior to the actual negotiations: interviews were held with key players, training was provided about the process for all participants, clear procedural and behavioral ground rules were established, a system for providing joint communiqués was developed, key data was jointly collected, and the essential interests of both parties were identified. When negotiations opened, the district and the teachers had a clear understanding of what the other hoped would be achieved.
The Outcome… After five days of intense, wide ranging negotiations focused on interest based bargaining, a contract settlement was achieved. It provided the changes necessary for: the revision of four secondary school schedules, development of a new model for staff and curriculum development (one that was research based), a longer school day, and development of a Leadership Management Council that included para-professional and support staff. The use of the ThoughtBridge Group and the process it employed radically changed for the better the way the district operated.
The Facilitator… I wish I could say that it was the new superintendent who effected the change. In truth, I, like each of the participants, gained valuable skills (ex. listening for understanding, expressing ideas/interests without making them value laden, seeking root causes and innovative solutions) by going through the process. The catalyst for making the process work was Irma Tyler-Wood. When emotions ran high, she gave us suggestions on how we might diffuse them. When dead-ends were all that could be seen, she suggested brainstorming activities to stimulate creative thinking. When she sensed people being de-valued, she reminded the players of rules of respect to which we had agreed. Given our history there was every reason to expect minimal outcomes. Her insight, her “grace under fire,” and, perhaps most importantly, her ability to make it be about the people at the table and not her, helped us achieve more that we ever expected.
There is an old saying that may have become cliché, but, nonetheless, has a truthful ring when it comes to any type of negotiation or change process – “If you always do what you have always done, you’ll always get what you always got, and you’ll always feel what you always felt.”
If you are looking for a different way to face those difficult challenges, are looking for ways to bring convergence to apparently wildly divergent points of view, and want to move your organization to a better place for all, hire Ki ThoughtBridge. You will never regret your decision."
- Thomas J. Strining