Sort out the spat before it goes too far

THE PUBLIC disciplinary hearing of CIMA council member Margaret May, still ongoing, has been an uncomfortable experience for both parties.

It is rare, if not unheard of, for institutes to raise grievances against council members and the risk of collateral damage is high.

Each story has two sides and both parties’ cases rest on a complex web of interactions, emails, opinions and disputed facts.

It seems obvious, however, that the situation would not have amounted to a face-off in the illustrious offices of Allen & Overy if there had been warmer feelings on both sides.

The parties’ interpretations of the various material aspects seem coloured by their experiences and relationships, as in any situation professional or otherwise.

Each side has its supporters and critics, with May and CIMA both lining up witnesses to fight their corners; it would have undertones of a schoolyard spat if there were not so much at stake.

May is non-executive director at a number of not-for-profit organisations and her roles are based on professional integrity and probity. If CIMA is found to be in the wrong then it could raise questions about its internal processes and the treatment of high-profile members.

Even before a verdict is reached, the hearing has cast a shadow over both parties and its conclusion will hardly be pleasant: the loser risks public besmirching and professional indignity.

One possible lesson at this early stage is that minor breakdowns in communication can, with time, mutate into unwieldy disputes with far-reaching consequences. Relationships and working practices established years ago can lead to intractable differences, making the rapid resolution of disputes impossible.

There are always personality clashes and circumstances under which a wronged party might feel that the only solution is a formal complaint and hearing; however, with the right culture and effective tools, organisations might avoid the destruction of turmoil fomenting within.

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