How NOT to pick a mediator

How NOT to pick a mediatorYou’ve faced an unhappy fact: your team needs help.

The conflict you face isn’t resolving itself, and each attempt at discussion just escalates the issue. The situation is getting increasingly tense, with finger-pointing accusations and name-calling becoming more and more frequent.

The only thing you seem to agree on is that something  needs to be done.

Perhaps it’s time to hire a mediator.

But how to choose? How to even find one, never mind figure out which one is best for your situation?

Here’s what not to do.

“I have a friend who’s a mediator”

Clearly, any friend of one individual on the team isn’t likely to be impartial – and in fact, any mediator approached about a job like this should turn it down as a conflict of interest.

What to do instead

Ask your mediator friend for three or four referrals. Interview each candidate as if you were hiring them for a job in your company (after all, you are!). If the candidate can’t meet and talk with each team member, consider having someone else in your organization conduct the interviews – someone not involved in the conflict.

“We all know Joe, so he’d be a good choice”

You might think it would be ideal when you all know the same mediator and that person is familiar with your situation.

In fact – not. In this case, Joe has too much information to be impartial. He’s talked individually with each of you over the years, and he undoubtedly has opinions about what’s happening and what should be done. Depending on how long he’s known you, he may have engaged with your team’s cultural norms and bought into the roles that each of you play. (By “roles,” I mean the archetypal roles of troublemaker, peacemaker, scapegoat, and so on, rather than the organizational titles you hold.)

What to do instead

Once again, you can ask for referrals and conduct interviews as described above. However, be sure to validate that Joe hasn’t spoken about your situation with any of his mediator friends.

“Whoever we pick needs to know our industry and understand our company”

Not necessarily!

In fact, the mediator’s external viewpoint and “beginner’s mind” is a key attribute in guiding your team to find answers that work for everyone involved. Since the team members know the hard-and-fast rules and regulations (such as legal requirements or regulatory issues within your industry), the mediator doesn’t have to know them.

The less the mediator knows, the more unencumbered with opinions she’ll be – and therefore she’ll be more likely to see dysfunctional behavior and communication patterns as well as interesting options that aren’t visible to the team.

What to do instead

As with any professional service, referrals are always your best choice. Ask other trusted professionals who provide services to your organization, such as your lawyer, accountant, and/or your banker. You can also reach out to local universities or colleges that have mediation programs (ask about their experienced past alumni), or tap the local chapter of your Bar Association for suggestions.

“We need a certified professional mediator”

Maybe you do, and maybe you don’t. This is a question only you can answer, but remember: there are many business consultants who are expert at resolving disputes within teams and also have a strategic business perspective. With their help, you can resolve the immediate issues in dispute and then go on to improve your organization’s morale, employee engagement, and ultimately your bottom-line profitability.

Remember, too, that mediators specialize in different areas. You’ll obviously be better off with an experienced business consultant than an equally-experienced divorce mediator!

What to do instead

The key is to find someone experienced with volatile teams who also understands business strategy.

So when you’re out there asking for referrals, make sure you don’t limit yourself to asking for mediators, but also seek out business consultants.

And whomever you choose, be sure to select someone whose approach aligns with the best of your organization’s culture and values.

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