President John F Kennedy was visiting NASA headquarters for the first time in 1961. As he walked along, he introduced himself to a janitor mopping the floor and asked him what he was doing. The janitor replied I am helping put a man on the moon’.
A workplace that provides meaning and a sense of self-worth to its employees and equips them with skills to handle positively the challenges that exist when there are differences and disagreements, nurtures a leader fulfilling the mission and vision of the organization.
Interdepartmental and Intradepartmental Conflict
Interdepartmental and Intradepartmental Conflict are frequent occurrences that could adversely impact productivity in big organizations.
Interdepartmental conflict, as explained by Colombia Business School Professor, Katherine W. Phillips, occur because departments are specialized and have interdependent but separate functions. They may have conflicting goals - the legal department wants to protect the corporation and the marketing department wants to maximize sales. These differences in goals can foster conflicts that spread to interactions between teams and individuals in the respective departments.
An example of intradepartmental conflict is a disagreement between two senior members of the marketing department of a company.
Inter and Intra departmental conflicts could be opportunities to help people in conflict learn to work with conflict in a constructive manner. The skills to confront the challenges of conflict, adjust values and learn new attitudes is the positive response to conflict which can build leadership. It is a behavioral change and requires a change in mind set.
Organizations that seek to develop this culture needs to cultivate it on an ongoing basis, putting in place systems and learning strategies to bring about the change.
Transitioning Mind-sets from victim to player
Fred Kofman, VP of Leadership Development at Linkedln in his book, ‘Meaningful Revolution’ has dealt at length on the essential steps to shift from Victim to Player. To explain briefly: The intuitive response while in conflict is towards denial, blame and complaints. It is tempting for those involved to appear as a victim and keep away from taking responsibility. This response can be countered if the management fosters an approach that welcomes conflict and views it as a clue to deeper issues. The work environment provides opportunities for conflicting parties to express and understand each other’s views and begin to see value in each other’s perspectives. The effort is to learn, understand and draw issues out instead of quelling conflict or winning the argument. They all work towards identifying the cracks that may exist in the system and use it as an opportunity for creativity and growth. The culture in the organization allows people in conflict to consciously choose to see and present themselves as players responding to a challenge.
Transitioning from victim to player occurs when conflicting parties recognize that by identifying themselves as part of the problem, they become part of the solution. Instead of apportioning blame, they introspect and understand their role in the situation that has become problematic. Rather than being a victim of external circumstances, they become the master of their actions and take responsibility, accountability and ownership for everything that happens in their environment. Together the parties work to prepare a shared narrative that leads them to integrate arguments and find solutions.
In case they are still not able to find their solutions, their goal continues to be not to ‘win’, but find the best decision for the organization. They invite a neutral third party into the conversation to facilitate their engagement in interactive problem-solving. This process is called mediation.
What is Mediation?
Mediation is a process where a trusted, neutral third party, called the mediator, facilitates dialogue and discussions between the parties in conflict to help them find mutually acceptable solutions to the problem. Perspective-taking is an important part of mediation. The underlying interests or prime drivers of the conflict is understood. Emotions are welcomed as an opportunity to be informed on how the dispute is seen and how it may be resolved. Multiple options are explored and the mediator continues to work with the parties until mutually acceptable solutions which are in the best interest of the company are found. The objective of the mediation would be to maximize benefits to the company through an optimal configuration of arrangements suggested by the conflicting parties and endorsed by the company.
Mediation is voluntary, confidential and based on self- determination. It recognizes that disputes are more than just about right and wrong, and most often arises because of miscommunication, lack of understanding, hurt feelings, conflicting concerns, cultural differences etc.
Transformational mediation empowers parties to transform the way they relate to each other in the future. Through the process of mediation, parties understand each other better, learn each other’s perspectives, build bridges and continue in interdependence.
The benefit of mediation in resolving interdepartmental and intradepartmental disputes have been recognized and acknowledged by the Union Ministry of Law and Social Justice. The law ministry has vide notification https://doj.gov.in/page/online-dispute-resolution-through-mediation-arbitration-conciliation-etc advised various ministries and central government departments to go for online mediation, conciliation or arbitration, instead of approaching regular courts to settle inter-department or inter-ministerial disputes. Several private companies are seeing the benefits of mediation while encountering inter and intra-departmental conflicts. As the CEO of a German company in Bangalore reported after a mediation, ‘The air in the office is lighter now’.
The workplace of the new millennium will focus on building the skills of their workforce for a positive response during conflict. In-house mediation or other conflict management programs become a sine qua non to organizations that seek to develop leadership and a sense of self-worth within the organization. Each member in the organization, equipped with the skills to handle differences and disagreements, becomes a master of his actions and a transcendent leader with self- confidence and self-worth in whatever role they are engaged in. Inter and Intra department conflict becomes an opportunity for growth. To quote Jalaluddin Rumi “The wound is the place where the light enters you”.