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Internal conflict can serve to benefit treatment centers

August 23, 2014
by Gary A. Enos
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Embrace workplace conflict, or risk becoming an addiction treatment organization where the executive team is mistrusted and clinical professionals become disgruntled or even consumed with rage, the CEO of an organization specializing in treating the dually diagnosed told a session audience Aug. 23 at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders (NCAD) in St. Louis.

Mary Woods, CEO of WestBridge, said in a session designed to clarify the transition between clinical staffer and manager that is so prevalent in facilities that staff teams who encourage respectful conflict end up benefiting through more widespread input on problem-solving. Many of her remarks were designed to discourage thoughts of a top-down approach to facility administration.

“I used to think I had arrived when I became a supervisor,” said Woods, whose early clinical work was in nursing. “You never really arrive as a leader. You just have to keep growing.”

Woods' session was among the 90-minute breakout presentations on the first full day of NCAD, an event sponsored by the publisher of Addiction Professional and Behavioral Healthcare magazines.

“What destroys most organizations is conflict avoidance,” said Woods. She told audience members, some of whom said they had been newly hired as managers, that centers should establish an environment where it is OK to fail.

She recalled feeling immense relief when an interviewer told her she would have license to take risks in a position she was seeking. She also talked about joint decision-making processes and shared accountability within organizations, adding that staff members will show more respect to a supervisor who can own up to a mistake.

“If we can embrace conflict and work with it, what a great gift we then have for our families and our clients,” Woods said.

Woods also discussed how leadership team meetings at WestBridge, which operates residential facilities in New Hampshire and Florida, gradually have evolved from sessions where participants sat in stone-faced silence to meaningful exchanges of ideas. An addition to these meetings has been a designated “Yoda” who ensures that anyone who does not seem to be participating in the discussion that day ultimately gets heard.