In informal conflict resolutions, a member may prefer that a third party be involved as a listener and facilitator. In traditional Soto temples, the Head of the Meditation Hall, the “Ino”, has multiple roles and Eihei Dogen notes in the Pure Standards, “The Ino manages troublesome disputes among the residents.” At AZC one or more ombudspersons exist and may be sought out for listening and for other assistance that the ombudsman may offer. Ombudspersons are made available to the members and identified in the main building and on AZC’s website. A member may request someone else at AZC to facilitate when resolving a conflict informally. Other possibilities include: the AZC director, teachers including the Head Teacher, practice leaders, the Ino, neutral parties, or trained mediators. Direct resolution is recommended individually or with a third party.
The ombudsperson is a role that is independent of the administrative roles at AZC and reports to the Head Teacher or board of directors depending on the issue faced but has discretion to report directly to the Board of Directors. An ombudsperson is neutral, impartial, and unaligned, striving for impartiality, fairness and objectivity in the treatment of people and the consideration of issues. In this role an ombudsperson advocates for fair and equitably administered processes and does not advocate on behalf of any individual within AZC. It is the responsibility of an ombudsperson to consider the legitimate concerns of all persons in AZC affected by the matter under consideration.
An ombudsperson’s role is limited to the informal process. The ombudsman functions on an informal basis by such means as listening, providing and receiving information, identifying and reframing issues, developing a range of responsible options, and only with permission, and at the ombudsperson’s discretion, engaging in informal third-party intervention. To the extent possible, an ombudsperson helps people develop new ways to solve problems themselves. They will hold all communications with those seeking assistance in strict confidence and take all reasonable steps to safeguard confidentiality.
Ombudspersons keep no organizational records containing identifying information on behalf of the organization. Any information maintained must be secured to ensure confidentiality. Ombudspersons have no other official roles at the Austin Zen Center which would compromise independence and neutrality. The ombudsperson does not make binding decisions, mandate policies, or formally adjudicate issues for the organization; does not replace (though may supplement) any formal channels; and use of the ombudsman is not a required step in any grievance process. If a formal grievance process is requested, the ombudsperson is not involved in the investigation process and the Ombudsman does not represent AZC within the organization or with external entities.
Ombudspersons may be nominated within the sangha. They are invited to serve in this role by the Board after notification to the sangha for feedback of possible ombudspersons.
When Informal Processes Don’t Resolve a Conflict
If direct resolution (a mutual understanding of the difficulty in a way that allows both parties to practice harmoniously at AZC) is not possible, a member of the Practice Committee (Head Teacher, Director, or other AZC individual who sees members for AZC practice discussions) should be notified by those in conflict, and the Practice Committee will become involved. At all stages, confidentiality of the members will be respected by all those involved. The Practice Committee works flexibly to help resolve the conflict, and depending on the gravity of the conflict, and at their discretion, may consult with the Elders Council. Issues that directly involve the Head Teacher, Director, Board member or member of the Practice Committee, and issues not resolved through the process detailed above follow the process detailed below.
Grievance process involving AZC leadership
A sangha member may initiate a formal request for resolution if the conflict involves the Head Teacher, Director, Practice Committee Member or Board Member at AZC. This path also may be followed if an informal conflict resolution path leaves the matter unresolved.
When AZC leadership (Head Teacher, Director, Member of Practice Committee or Board) is involved in the grievance, at least two people will be notified of the formal request for resolution. The purpose of notifying two people is for accountability.
The sangha member initiating the request will choose a person from the following group who will listen and help clarify the conflict:
- Head Teacher
- Practice leaders
- Board members
- Trained mediators
- Elders Council
A second person will be chosen from the same group by the other sangha member engaged in the conflict to help clarify the situation from their perspective. If one of the members involved in the conflict is the Head Teacher, it is recommended that the teacher involve a member of the Elders Council or another senior teacher not from AZC.
Clarifying meetings may take place as warranted but are not required. The member that initiated the formal request will write a concise description of the issues, and the other member involved in the conflict will have two weeks for response. No response is an indication that this member agrees with the issues as presented. The two chosen accountable leaders are not advocating, they are listening to the members involved in the conflict and ensuring that there is effective communication and articulation of the issues in the formal grievance. This document including any response is a formal board document that will be recorded.
This document will be shared with the Board of Directors and the resolution process that follows is at the discretion of the Board depending on severity, urgency, and practicality. The Board, in a closed session, may decide to form a grievance committee that will include at least one Board member and the two accountable leaders chosen by the members in conflict. The Board at its discretion may choose not to form a committee and issue direction if appropriate which will also be recorded. The Elders Council may be consulted.
If a grievance committee is formed, the intent of that committee is to resolve conflict and restore the harmony of the sangha with respect and caring for those involved. Confidentiality will be maintained and encouraged for this part of the process. The grievance committee at its discretion may need to make additional inquiry. The grievance committee will then make a full report to the Board with recommendations which will be shared with the parties. Each party may choose to make written comments to the Board within two weeks of receiving the recommendation. If necessary, the Board will then vote on the recommendations and the decision will be final.
If warranted, the Board at its discretion may decide to explain the decision to the sangha. In this case, the Board will be as respectful as possible with information regarding the parties and issues.