The IPA has identified that a serious barrier to positive industrial relations in the UK is the sparse level of knowledge amongst managers about how to work effectively with trade unions. Very few, for example, have experience of how to negotiate. Negotiation is sometimes referred to as an art. In fact, it is a process that requires specific skills and behaviours which can be developed by anyone using a simple suite of tools and techniques. Above all, it is about thorough planning.

Negotiation does not have to be a confrontational exercise - it should be an open and honest dialogue which genuinely seeks consensus and establishes a solid platform for good industrial relations in an organisation.

The IPA has developed a training course primarily aimed at managers who are required to negotiate with trade union representatives. The training course would be tailored for the specific needs of the managers in their particular organisation, but the content would normally include the following:

  • The history of trade unions and where they are now
  • Examination of the challenges all parties face
  • How negotiations are structured including; setting out the process at outset, rules of engagement (including time-outs); taking effective notes
  • Understanding the different types of consultation and negotiation techniques including: option-based, interest-based and traditional collective
  • Identifying what negotiating skills are; establishing objectives, preparation using 15 strategic questions, identifying your backstop position
  • Strategies to use when demands cannot be met
  • Identifying what consultation and negotiation behaviours are
  • Understanding what happens next from perspectives including; ballots, sign-off procedures, mutual understanding, communication protocols
  • Four case study scenarios - The “no-no” vote, The skills/behaviours gap, Enlarging “the cake”, Stalling for time
  • Action planning

Working collaboratively

The pillars necessary for working collaboratively, originally identified in IPA research from 1992, remain valid today:

  • Joint commitment to the success of the organisation
  • Joint recognition of each other’s legitimate interests
  • Joint commitment to employment security
  • Joint focus on the quality of working life
  • Joint commitment to operating in a transparent manner
  • Joint commitment to add value to the arrangement

Working collaboratively requires a relationship based on the satisfaction of mutual as well as separate interests with respect given by both parties to those separate interests. This approach works best when a union thinks about the business and business thinks about the staff before any decision is made or any action is taken.  

The principles of working collaboratively, inform the IPA's approach to this training.

Find out more...

How can the IPA help?
What we doThe IPA led the way with the ground-breaking Towards Industrial Partnership project in 1992 and has been at the forefront of thinking since – more recently publishing The Practitioners Guide to Partnership Working.  Our research activity underpins the services we provide to organisations developing partnership working, whether taking the first steps on the journey or seeking to enhance existing ways of working.Working closely with client organisations, the IPA team can:
  • Help you to set up a partnership, or develop those that are already in place
  • Provide a diagnostic – where are you now?
  • Develop and test a road map for change     
  • Design interventions such as vision workshops and training at all levels of the organisation looking at appropriate skills and behaviours
  • Ensure that organisations are getting the most from their partnership


See what we did

Read about our work developing partnership working at Aintree University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

What they say - Guernsey Post Limited

Guernsey Post asked Nita to help the company extend their approach to collaborative working with the CWU.  Based on a series of interviews, Nita presented her findings at a joint workshop where senior union representatives and managers agreed a way forward.

"We really appreciated the way Nita put together the workshop it was  stretching, lively and interesting for all concerned. It helped us to move our partnership approach on another step - a vital factor in meeting the continuing challenges for our people and our business". 

Steve Rains, HR Director, Guernsey Post Limited

How do organisations benefit from a collaborative approach?
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Collaboration is built on principles and practices of shared commitment between the organisation and the people who work there.  This should produce the following business benefits:

  • Change implemented with assistance rather than resistance
  • Competitive edge for the organisation
  • Dealing with issues before they become problems
  • Less bureaucracy
  • Fewer, if any, tribunal cases
  • Higher levels of staff retention
  • Greater ability to recruit high quality staff
  • Low levels of absenteeism
  • Less conflict
  • Better decision making

For a trade union, all of these are benefits too. There are also some specific areas that a trade union working collaboratively will benefit from:

  • Opportunity to maintain or increase its influence on company strategy
  • Opportunity to ensure that the impact of staff is considered in any decision
  • Opportunity to increase membership levels
  • Opportunity to develop the skills of the representatives to a much higher level
  • Opportunity to become an equal stakeholder within the organisation

 These are benefits to the organisation as well.

What does working collaboratively mean for a trade union representative?
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It is accepted that this way of working may make the job of a union representative more demanding because they have to think about potential business impacts when requesting the maintenance or improvement to existing terms and conditions. It also requires an acceptance of the management’s right to manage and make the final decision.

This does not mean that a union representative has to agree with everything that is placed in front of him or her. The difference is that any objection should be supported by something more than ideology. If a challenge is made to a business decision, it should be made in such a way as to facilitate a meaningful discussion. Once a decision is made, however, the representative must have a clear understanding of why as it is vital that this is fully explained to the membership and the staff.

What does working collaboratively mean for a manager?
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The requirement for change is often very similar for managers. Middle managers are usually cited as one of the main reasons why this way of working fails but this is often because they are not engaged in the process. It is natural to feel disenfranchised when this happens.  

Managers have no reason to feel threatened by collaborative working. They have a right to manage and the final decision is theirs; the difference is that the business case is being made available to the union representatives openly, honestly and at the earliest stage possible.  A manager must be equipped with the skills to respond positively to challenges and should accept employees’ desire for information, representation and consultation before decisions are taken. 

Working collaboratively should help a manager achieve their objectives. Being able to run ideas past a union representative and thus gauge the potential response of the staff, can only help the decision making process. An idea might be modified to take account of this or it might not but, at the very least, the reaction to a decision is known.

What are the behaviours needed for working collaboratively?
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All of this depends on how the managers and union representatives get on with each other and, more importantly, how much they trust each other. If managers take union representatives into their confidence by sharing ideas and information at the earliest stage, they have to know that this trust will not be breached. This is probably the most critical aspect of collaborative working and presents as big a challenge to the trade union representative as it does to the manager. In a sense, the old method of industrial relations was relatively simple when both sides would try to “get one over” on the other by being secretive and bureaucratic. Openness and honesty, however, results in a big increase in responsibility for all of those involved. This takes time to achieve.

A manager should eventually feel comfortable with bringing any issue to the attention of a union representative in the knowledge that any response would be clam and considered. In turn, the union representative should feel comfortable with bringing any issue to the attention of a manager in the knowledge that it will be considered seriously but not necessarily acted upon. All parties should communicate in a cordial manner without threats or a reversion back to “command and control” styles.


Sarah Dawson, Head of Operations

E          [email protected]

M         07713178699