Building leadership in companies through transformative mediation

In 1961, President John F Kennedy visited the NASA headquarters for the first time. As he walked along, he introduced himself to a janitor mopping the floor, and asked him what he was doing. The janitor infamously replied that “I’m helping put a man on the moon!”.

I’m helping put a man on the moon!

A workplace that provides meaning and a sense of self-worth to its employees by equipping them with the skills to positively handle differences and disagreements helps to create employee leadership that fulfils the mission and vision of the organisation.

Inter- and intra-departmental conflict

Interdepartmental and intradepartmental conflict are frequent occurrences that can adversely impact productivity in big organisations.

Interdepartmental conflict, as explained by Colombia Business School Professor Katherine W. Phillips, occurs because departments are specialised and therefore have interdependent but separate functions. They may have conflicting goals—the legal department wants to protect the corporation, while the marketing department wants to maximise sales. These differences in goals can foster conflicts that spread to interactions between teams and individuals in the respective departments.

Intradepartmental conflict takes place between people within the same department, for example, a disagreement between two senior members of the marketing department of a company.

Inter- and intra- departmental conflicts can help people learn to work with conflict in a constructive manner, as they present an opportunity to learn positive skills. These skills include confronting the challenges of conflict, adjusting values, and learning new attitudes, and can build leadership. This positive response is a behavioural change, and requires a change in mindset.

Organisations that seek to develop a culture of positive response to conflict need to cultivate it on an ongoing basis, putting in place systems and learning strategies that bring about the change. The first step is transitioning mindsets from ‘victim’ to ‘player’.

Transitioning mindsets, from ‘victim’ to ‘player’

In his book ‘Meaningful Revolution’, VP of Leadership Development at LinkedIn Fred Kofman deals at length with the essential steps enabling a shift from ‘victim’ to ‘player’. The intuitive response while in conflict is towards denial, blame, and complaints. It is tempting for those involved to appear as a victim and avoid taking responsibility. This response can be countered if management fosters an approach that welcomes conflict and views it as a clue to deeper issues. The effort is towards learning, understanding, and drawing out issues rather than quelling conflict or winning the argument. Conflicting parties can express and understand each other’s views and begin to see value in one another’s perspectives. They can then all work towards identifying the cracks that may exist in the system, and use the situation as an opportunity for creativity and growth. The culture in the organisation allows people in conflict to consciously choose to see and present themselves as players responding to a challenge, rather than victims.

Transitioning from victim to player occurs when conflicting parties recognise that by identifying themselves as part of the problem, they become part of the solution. Instead of apportioning blame, they engage in self-reflection and understand their role in the situation. Rather than being a victim of extern