New ways of organisingPublic Transport

From conflict to dialogue

A productive strategic conversation at a time of tension

A national transport organization was faced with a disgruntled workforce regarding their work schedules. The dissatisfaction was so high, that it led to a strike. Which made it important to come up with a quick and sustainable solution as soon as possible.


The concrete request to us was to evaluate the annual process by which the schedules and work packages had been created. In addition, they wanted to use this evaluation as a basis to design a new process in which the different demands of staff satisfaction, operational costs and feasibility could all be balanced.


The question was complex in terms of content, but the real challenge lay in the fact that the parties were in conflict with each other. How could we arrive at a productive strategic discussion?



We handled the two questions at once chose our working methods carefully. For the evaluation, we held in-depth discussions with various parties involved. We used those to reconstruct the process by which the work packages and schedules were created. Thus, we gained insight into the different process steps, the bottlenecks and the differences in perspectives and interests of various stakeholders.


At the same time, we also had to work on the work packages for the coming year. In order to do this in the midst of the tense working relations, we organized a very strict structuring mechanism: every week we met with a steering group with stakeholders from all parties. Employees, management, participation council: every voice was represented. In this way, different interests could be weighed up and quick decisions could be made real-time.


After conducting all in-depth interviews, we made a reconstruction of the whole process in the form of a timeline (chronology of activities) and of monologues (impression of the personal experiences and dilemmas). We introduced five fictional (but real-life based) figures with different roles in the process: decision-makers, practitioners, analysts.... During the evaluation meeting we had five actors read these stories, which included intentions, experiences and ideas for the future.


While listening to the monologues being read out loud, it soon became clear to everyone that each party had the best in mind, both for the company and for the employees. But everyone’s frustrations and dilemmas also came into full focus. As a result, the various parties at the table began to see the greater pattern in their cooperation, in which people sometimes inadvertently kept each other imprisoned. It turned out to be a pivotal point and a solid basis for designing together in a new way of working. This design process then took place in the weekly steering group.



Our working methods had the intended effect: tensions decreased, people were able to look beyond their own interests and a constructive dialogue developed. With trust restored, we succeeded in defining a new process in which everyone's interests were represented. The new approach was visualized by means of an interactive timeline and an instructional film. In this way, everyone could understand it and, in his or her role, contribute as much as possible to a smooth process. The result was a streamlined process, less tension and... better work schedules.