By Dave CampbellAugust 20, 2010
Fort Campbell has taken the concept of King Arthur's Knights of the Roundtable and translated it as a means of addressing disputes that arise in the workplace.
Equal Employment Opportunity Officer, Gregory Stallworth created the KNIGHT program for certified mediators who act as a third party to resolve conflicts that often originate from complaints of a hostile work environment.
"Our primary mission is to resolve a complaint," Stallworth said. "One of the most prevalent complaints has to do with a hostile environment or harassment. We get that a lot."
The KNIGHTs handle complaints that fall on this spectrum and serve as a middleman to negotiate before an employee seeks further action.
Other complaints could be someone who feels wrongly subjected to disciplinary action, a person denied promotion or even someone who believes they were terminated for reasons that were unfair.
"We try to get an answer to their question, but we can't always resolve," Stallworth said. "There are certain circumstances when resolution is not applicable."
Regardless, it's been working, by cutting the number of filed complaints in half and saving the Garrison a bundle of money.
The acronym defines all the qualities a KNIGHT should maintain: Knowledgeable, neutral, innovative, guardian, honest and technical.
KNIGHTs are locally trained EEO personnel, of which there are 19 at Fort Campbell - who handle complaints from federal employees, or civilian contractors.
Van Stokes, chief of recreation and deputy director of Morale Welfare and Recreation at Fort Campbell, said he became involved with the KNIGHTs after being certified as a mediator.
As guest speaker at the most recent KNIGHTs ceremony, Stokes spoke about the task of mediation, resolving conflict and addressing issues at the lowest practical level.
"The sources and symptoms of conflict challenge KNIGHTs to use the skills they have learned," Stokes said in a phone interview from Finland.
"You have two parties with dispute," he continued. "Most of the time the problem is based on misunderstanding and miscommunication."
Stokes stands by his belief that problems solved best, are those solved at lowest possible level.
"We sometimes get complaints from a contractor," Stallworth said. "In certain circumstances, we would handle that complaint if it's filed against the Army."
Often, workers already have a dispute going when they come in, Stallworth said. But the office stands ready for those who might have questions about a potential complaint as well.
"A lot of times people don't want a question answered," he said. "They will engage us with their complaint and ... we try to resolve it at the lowest level possible. If we can't, we always give them opportunity to pursue a complaint."
Army Regulation 690-600 allows for a program called the Roundtable, where KNIGHTs bring their mediation training to the table.
It's a way of saving a lot of time and money, Stallworth said. "A lot of times it works out before a complaint gets off the ground. But once a complaint is launched, it will require an outside, neutral third-party individual."
Stallworth said EEO's job is primarily to coordinate opportunities for workers with complaints to work with their employer and see if they can work it out diplomatically.
More often than not, he said, employers find that this method of approaching a dilemma is helpful once they see it as an opportunity to overcome and transcend the dispute.
"We're here to assist," Stallworth said. "We want to help make Fort Campbell a model employer. Everything we do is about enhancing. We want to ensure that an organization is a healthy one where people enjoy coming to work."
Creating the program two years ago when numerous complaints were piling up, Stallworth wanted to focus EEO efforts on conciliation between disgruntled parties.
It soon became a part of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Program and is now Army-regulated, with a goal of "resolving disputes in a mutually satisfactory fashion" in as little time as possible.
"Whoever has a comment about a situation, can come to the roundtable, give input so there can be a meeting of the minds and convergence of opinions," Stallworth said. "The KNIGHTs of the Roundtable get people to talk again, by way of a trained mediator."
Workplace disputes are random, and none are immune or more prone to the miscommunication that causes these disputes, Stallworth said.
"It can happen anywhere when you have people who are not communicating well," Stallworth said. "And when a dispute happens, that's when the KNIGHTS come in."
Knowledgeable - As certified mediators, they have the knowledge of what a mediator should be doing.
Neutral - It's absolutely necessary that the person be impartial and have no interest in the dispute.
Innovative - You have to be an out-of-the-box thinker, ready to think on your feet.
Guardian - Being a guardian of the process.
Honest - Being honest with both sides of the table.
Technical - Should be able to write a negotiated settlement agreement.