72nd ABW ADR Office earns top Air Force award

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --

The 72nd Air Base Wing Alternative Dispute Resolution Office was recently recognized as the top program of its kind in the Air Force.

The office was honored with the General Counsel’s Conflict Management/ADR Award last month at the worldwide ADR Program Management Training Conference in San Antonio. “As a pioneer in taking a proactive approach to workplace dispute resolution,” conference officials said, “this team administered education programs that armed more than 2,700 personnel with the ADR awareness tools and interest-based negotiation skills instrumental to successfully prevent and resolve conflict at the lowest appropriate level. Their efforts resulted in the resolution of 60 complaints (in FY 2016) with a cost avoidance saving in excess of $1.5 million.”

The 72nd ABW office is the only standalone ADR program in the Air Force. Most programs are embedded within Equal Opportunity offices and staff, with ADR mediation as part of other duties. Tinker’s full-time ADR office is staffed with three people in Bldg. 3001: ADR Specialists Debbie Patterson and Kelli Anderson and ADR Administrator Katie Nowell. Terry Hirons, the base Equal Opportunity director with offices in Bldg. 201, is also the ADR program manager.

Under the slogan “the informal option to resolve your workplace dispute,” ADR programs use neutral, trained volunteer mediators to solve workplace conflicts such as tardiness disputes, employees not getting along, disputed promotions, discrimination, nonsexual harassment and contested firings. Employees and management voluntarily choose the mediation. The aim is to solve disputes in a few weeks, rather than through lengthy formal complaints or legal proceedings.

The office handled 144 requests for help in fiscal year 2016. Eighty-seven of them went to mediation and 60, or 69 percent, were resolved by agreement of the parties.

Each member of the 72nd ABW ADR Office, including Hirons, was asked to lead training presentations with other experts at the three-day conference. Hirons said the interaction with other Air Force program managers was a two-way learning process.

“The whole focus of that was to help move the ADR program forward throughout the Air Force and it has generated some ideas,” Hirons said. “We’ve been asked for our products by several program managers throughout the Air Force since the conference took place.”

The office conducts conflict resolution training with new hires, Tinker offices, military units and Air Force officials in the region. The proactive goal is to avoid the need for outside mediation or formal complaints to solve problems, Hirons said.

“We have a big push to put conflict resolution tools in folks’ hands from the get-go,” he said. “These guys do great training. We’re giving them some great information so that in the future they’ve got a skill set, hopefully, that will prevent issues from rising to this level in the first place.”