On July 31, 56 academic managers convened for a day of development and learning at their annual Summer Institute, held at the Princeton Innovation Center BioLabs facility. This year’s topic was Conflict Management and Resolution as requested by the Standing Human Resources Subcommittee of the Academic Managers Group (AMG). Chaired by Associate Dean of the Faculty Karen Haskin, the Summer Institute Planning Committee included Kris McDonald, program manager, Center for Research and Child Wellbeing, Population Research; Sarah McGovern, assistant director, Center for Statistics and Machine Learning; and Carol Zanca, manager, finance and administration graduate administrator, Department of Anthropology. They planned the day-long program in collaboration with Mo Connolly, director of learning and development; Mary Beth Larkin, senior human resources manager; Clara Stillwagon, senior human resources manager; and Bridget Walsh, senior labor relations manager. Patty Lieb, communications and events manager, Department of Anthropology, organized the event logistics. Karen Haskin commented, “Academic managers have complex and challenging roles. The Summer Institute is an opportunity to take a full day to focus on their professional development. It’s a fun day of learning. The committee enjoyed planning the Summer Institute and thinking of new ways to engage their peers in these activities.”
This annual Summer Institute is funded by the Office of the Dean of the Faculty to support Princeton’s academic managers with a day set aside for professional development. Annually, Haskin works with a team of academic managers to design the program. Each year the team selects a theme.
A few years ago, Haskin and the AMG, in partnership with HR, completed a year-long project to develop a competency model that would meet the needs of academic managers. At the 2018 Summer Institute, the managers realized an opportunity to embrace the new model and offered a full-day program on communication, one of the core competencies. According to Kris McDonald, “The development of the core competencies reflects vital components of our roles at the University. Translating that into professional development in a continued and layered way was among the highest goals for the committee. It is both fun and meaningful.”
Focusing on another competency to plan this year’s program, the HR Subcommittee selected conflict management and conducted a survey to learn about the managers’ needs based on their own styles and types of conflict they encounter. Connolly, along with Kamara Blackman, career specialist; Phylicia Johnson, human resources generalist; and Nicole Klein, senior learning and development specialist; designed and facilitated the morning session to help individuals reflect on how they feel about and then manage conflict personally. They explored how they can better understand others through conflict, with particular attention to strengthening communication styles and channels, appreciating the role of empathy and active listening, and managing conflict up, down, and across. Connolly noted, “We developed real life practical scenarios that depicted specific challenges academic managers face daily. They were able to practice problem solving skills on-the-spot and learn interactively from each other.” They also learned about facilitating resolution, when to coach versus when to mediate, and how to flex their approach based on the presenting issue.
By the afternoon, having strengthened their own self-awareness, the group worked on building skills as leaders and managers to help their own staffs to address, work through, and resolve conflicts more effectively. Walsh, the afternoon session facilitator, noted, “We provided a practical framework and tools for effectively coaching and mediating conflict between employees, with a focus on strategies to uncover the often inexplicit source of the conflict.” By coming together as a group of managers, they were able to share experiences and learn from one another.
Walsh observed, “Conflict transcends all aspects of our lives. If we can recognize our own tendencies when responding to conflict, as well as uncover the source of the dispute, usually unmet interest or emotion, we are in a significantly better space to resolve the conflict. The Summer Institute 2019 focused on building these critical skills.” Connolly said, "We hope this is only the beginning of the journey. We expect follow up sessions will foster individuals continuing to learn.”
Anyone interested in more information can contact HR through the learning and development mailbox.
Photos by Dan Komoda, Eyesquid Productions