mediate interpersonal conflict on a team

A team is stuck – because two team members are

CONTEXT

A team leader struggled to create a cohesive team due, largely, to two team members who had trouble getting along.

These two colleagues regularly experienced interpersonal conflicts, misunderstandings and differences of opinion. They lacked the trust and skills to resolve issues with one another in a healthy way, and over time, they resorted to communicating as little as possible with each other; every once in a while, they had small “blow ups” at work followed by long periods of silence.

The unresolved conflict between these two colleagues was apparent to everyone on the team, and the result was a collection of wasted energy, as well as different “factions” who quietly sided with each person.

APPROACH

In our experience, this situation is common and needs to be dealt with separately and should precede any traditional “team-building” session that includes everyone on the team.

In anticipation of a mediation, we spoke with the leader, along with the two individuals involved in the conflict, to understand perspectives as well as the effect the conflict was having on relationships, process, and work results.

We then facilitated a series of three mediated conversations with the two team members in our office. These mediated conversations were aimed at “clearing the air” about a series of unresolved conflicts and misunderstandings from the past, and we also introduced some key concepts related to conflict resolution and having difficult conversations.

In between mediated sessions, we conducted a few focused coaching sessions with each individual aimed at helping them become more aware of their own roles in having co-created the relationship. We challenged each person to change key attitudes and behaviors to support a healthier relationship moving forward.

RESULTS

After some initial resistance and defensiveness, both individuals began to realize that they were hurt, angry, and had unmet needs in the working relationship.

Mediated conversations resulted in a clearing of the air, such that conflicts in the past were left in the past, and the pair were able to move forward, albeit with some caution, into a new way of relating.

Each individual recognized their part in the conflict, and experimented with new ways of communicating, free of blame, gossip, or punishment, aimed at bettering the relationship.

The pair reported feeling more engaged and happier at work, and all team members reported having more energy as a result of the resolution of a long-standing bottleneck. The leader reported a greater sense of trust in the collaboration present amongst the group.