top of page

Mediation: How to make change work

Originally published by CIO magazine (German only)

Resistance is a common reaction to change. Mediation can help give change a positive meaning. Read how.

Conflict management can help to manage change processes.
At strategic turning points, employee buy-in is essential. If it doesn't happen, the project is in jeopardy. Mediation can help turn things around before you hit an iceberg.

"Things were better in the old days". Who has not heard this phrase? Humans are creatures of habit. They feel uncomfortable when change occurs, whether in their personal or professional lives. But in a world of constant change, change is inevitable and adaptability is required, as Charles Darwin recognized: "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most adaptable to change." In today's dynamic business world, this means: To stand still is to go backwards, and those who fail to adapt lose their competitive edge.

However, not every employee is ready to follow new paths. Fear of the unknown is human and understandable from an evolutionary perspective: Why leave the cave if you don't know what awaits you outside?

Project management - the signs of failure

At strategic turning points, employee buy-in is crucial. If it is not there, the project is in jeopardy. Leaders often make the mistake of giving PowerPoint presentations about big changes without walking the talk. They hide behind new buzzwords without understanding what they mean. Or they introduce trendy methods and techniques without questioning whether they are appropriate to the situation. This creates mistrust among employees and leads to negative reactions. Now is the time to question the situation before the project threatens to fail. Look for the signs:

  • Are your colleagues arguing more often and the discussions getting louder? Conflicts often arise from unmet needs and a lack of clarity, direction and transparency. Instead of focusing on the essentials and pulling together, colleagues are now going at each other.

  • Do you often hear the saying: "We have no problems"? Then pay attention, because this is a classic case of repression or denial. People don't want to deal with the new situation, either because they assume that "this" will pass, like everything else before it. Or because they ignore that they have an active role to play in the change. They don't want to take responsibility and prefer to stay out of it.

  • Covert resistance is particularly threatening. Rarely is it clearly identifiable, and often the people who perform it are unaware of it themselves. However, it often becomes an incalculable risk for transformation projects. Be vigilant when decisions that have already been made are repeatedly called into question, tasks that have been taken over have to be delegated back, and areas of responsibility have to be divided up by you because no one is willing to volunteer. Proactivity becomes a foreign word. Minor issues and special cases are discussed endlessly. But where communication is needed, there is silence.

Nevertheless, it is possible to turn things around before we hit an iceberg. You just need the right tools.

Mediation processes for successful change

One such tool is mediation, a method of strategic conflict resolution. The structure of the process can also be used by managers to resolve tensions and reduce resistance in change processes. Let's look at the mediation process for resolving conflicts in the context of restructuring an IT department. The challenge is that some employees cling to old ways of working, creating tensions within the team and in collaboration with other departments. The mediation process consists of seven steps:

Step 1: Needs analysis and preparation

First, a comprehensive needs analysis is carried out to understand the nature of the conflict and to define the objectives of the mediation process. This is done through discussions between the mediator and the employees, managers and other parties involved.

Step 2: Explaining the mediation process

The parties involved are invited and the mediator explains the mediation process, its objectives, rules and principles. Here the confidentiality of the discussions is also emphasised.

Step 3: Identifying the issues in dispute

The parties now have the opportunity to present their view of the conflict situation. The mediator helps them to get an overview of the issues that need to be resolved. These can be, for example, communication problems, resource conflicts or resistance to change.

Step 4: Identifying interests and needs

The mediator helps the parties to identify common interests and needs in order to understand and resolve the core of the underlying conflict.

Step 5: Developing solutions

In this step, the parties work on solutions to the previously identified problem areas. The mediator plays a crucial role here. He ensures that the parties are working on a solid basis and that communication remains solution-oriented throughout the process. This creates the basis for a speedy resolution and lays the foundation for continued collaborative working in future disputes.

Step 6: Agreement and implementation

Once the parties have reached an agreement, it is put into writing. The aim is to define specific action points with clear responsibilities. Regular follow-up meetings are held to review the progress of implementation and the achievement of objectives.

Step 7: Conclusion and follow-up

At the end of the mediation, a final meeting is held to ensure that the agreement is effective, that the parties are satisfied with the outcome and that the original conflicts have been permanently resolved.

This is a rough outline of a mediation process for conflicts related to IT reorganisation. Depending on the specific circumstances and parties involved, the actual steps and details may vary.

Managing resistance - or letting it be managed?

When a conflict is well advanced, it often resembles a wildfire that is difficult to get back under control. In such situations, managers are faced with the question: When does it make sense to take further countermeasures, and when should a mediator be brought in? Here are five indicators of when external support can be useful:

1. Conflicts persist: If conflicts between the same parties recur, or problems persist despite several attempts at resolution, using a mediator can bring a breakthrough.

2. Productivity suffers: If unresolved tensions are sending productivity south, if a once cheerful atmosphere has faded, if the need for reassurance through formal writing is growing, or if conversations are increasingly about how to communicate, then it may be time to counteract this with mediation to steer productivity back north.

3. Emotions block progress: If strong emotions such as anger, frustration or resentment hinder constructive dialogue and discussions leave the ground of objectivity, mediation can help resolve these blockages and return the discussion to a factual and solution-oriented ground.

4. No solution in sight: If internal efforts to resolve the conflict have failed, or agreements reached remain on paper, a mediator can help the parties find a common solution and achieve tangible results.

5. Communication breakdown: If the parties only communicate in writing, e.g. by e-mail, where every word is carefully chosen as in a contract, or if communication breaks down completely, this is a clear signal to seek external support.

If you follow all the process steps above, nothing should stand in the way of the success of your next change management project. And if things do get out of control, remember: Even at the last minute, mediation can help turn things around.


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page