Resolving Conflicts on Intranet Teams (Leadership, Part 3)

By Paul Chin

Originally published in Intranet Journal (11-Sep-2006)

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When things are calm and everything is running smoothly anyone can appear to be a good leader. They can say the right things to the right people, do a little internal PR to embellish their past achievements, and play the role of bobble-headed pseudo-psychiatrist.

During difficult times, however, true leaders are revealed. It's the difficult times that separate those who take the reins and tackle the problem head-on and those who cower in a washroom stall, waiting for the dust to settle. How intranet leaders respond to difficult and unexpected situations will define them and determine how those under them will, in turn, respond to their leadership.

Here, in Part 3 of my series on intranet leadership, I examine one of the most common intranet leadership situations: Resolving conflicts between intranet members.

Intranet Leaders as Peacekeeper

An intranet involves the interaction between developers, designers, subsite leaders, content owners, and business analysts. Each group—all vital to the overall success of an intranet—sees the system through a different lens and has its own idiosyncrasies and language. They each have their own set of responsibilities, priorities, and, of course, problems. The interpersonal dynamics between all these different groups can get a little ... interesting, to say the least. At the helm of this motley crew of professionals is, hopefully, a sort of air traffic controller: the intranet overseer.

Regardless of how well all of these groups and individuals work with one another, there will be times when one ends up butting heads with another. This is a natural part of any large collaborative effort. After all, it can't be a frolic in the garden all the time; this isn't a Disney movie.

When these conflicts occur and can't be resolved between the groups or individuals themselves, it will be up to an intranet leader to smooth things over—to act as a neutral and nonpartisan mediator.

In order for this to work, however, everyone needs to respect the decisions and actions of the leader. The leader must be seen as an intelligent person of authority or they won't be taken seriously.

How an intranet leader is perceived plays a large role in conflict resolution. If team members view their leader as a hack, the leader's attempts at conflict resolution will be seen as an unwanted third party butting into a situation he or she has no right to be in. The intranet leader might end up becoming an active participant in the disagreement as opposed to a mediator between the parties.

Conflict Resolution Tips for Intranet Leaders

Conflict resolution and diplomacy is a skill every good leader should have. It's a skill that has little to do with technology or business process; it's about social skills and communication. A leader's ability to prevent minor disputes from escalating into furniture-throwing altercations is vital to a healthy working relationship among the various intranet team members.

Here are some tips that leaders should keep in mind when resolving team member conflicts:

To be continued ...

Conflicts between individuals and groups don't only affect those involved. The stress from these situations has a rippling effect that will negatively impact all those around the conflicting parties. While some of these conflicts can be worked out between those in disagreement, there will be times when an intranet leader is required to step in to find an amicable solution for everyone.

If leaders are unable or unwilling to help those under them resolve their disputes in a fair and efficient manner, the entire intranet team—even those who have nothing to do with the conflict—will suffer. The whole team will become contaminated with hostility, polarizing the various cliques to the point where nothing of value is accomplished.

In part 4 of this series I'll continue this discussion with other intranet situations leaders need to face such as leading an inexperienced team, dealing with system hijackers, and managing teams during a full system meltdown.

Copyright © 2006 Paul Chin. All rights reserved.
Reproduction of this article in whole or part in any form without prior written permission of Paul Chin is prohibited.