Ombuds’ corner: Management or communication?

In this series, the Bulletin aims to explain the role of the Ombuds at CERN by presenting practical examples of misunderstandings that could have been resolved by the Ombuds if he had been contacted earlier. Please note that, in all the situations we present, the names are fictitious and used only to improve clarity.


Following the internal restructuring of a unit, a disagreement developed between the leader of the team and its members. Fred challenged John, the manager in charge of the unit, about his strategy, arguing that his plans would not be beneficial. However, Fred fully recognized that John was entitled to make such a decision as the leader of the team.

Unfortunately, the misunderstanding escalated to the point of impasse, before either of them had had the chance to fully explain - or listen to - their arguments and motivations. John and Fred stuck to their positions, which they were no longer willing to discuss in confidence. Neither was happy about the situation, as they both wanted the same thing: a clearly organized and effective unit. In this environment, the team suffered from the situation.

As long as the team considered the difference as a purely organizational matter to be resolved inside the unit, the Ombuds was not involved, as it is not part of his mandate to discuss managerial decisions.

However, when Fred and John recognised that their communication problems were affecting their disagreement, they decided to ask a neutral third party to facilitate a mutual understanding. From that point on, the Ombuds, for example, was then able to gently help them move past their fixed positions in order to discuss their real interests. Given the fact that they shared a common main interest, they quickly resolved the situation and developed a win-win solution that satisfied them both as well as the entire team.


In general, some difficulties in teams are considered purely as managerial matters. However, most of the time communication problems prevent open discussion and mutual understanding. Discussing these matters early with the Ombuds, for example, will help to define where the problem lies. Such an informal chat does not require any commitment, as the Ombuds will not interfere with managerial decisions.

* Names and story are purely imaginary.

Contact the Ombuds early!

by Vincent Vuillemin