By the time the school asked Mediation at Work for help, the rift between the head of department (HoD) and her deputy was seriously hindering the performance of the school’s senior management team.
Their long-standing dispute had been inflamed by a formal grievance procedure, which had failed to improve the situation and had exacerbated the breakdown of trust and communication.
Three meetings were arranged. Two initial individual sessions with the mediator to explore the perspective of each party, and a subsequent joint meeting, with the mediator present, to look at both the difficulties in the past and how a better working relationship could be built for the future. It was essential that the mediator used the first two sessions to build sufficient trust in the process and the mediator to enable both parties to talk openly at the later joint meeting.
At the joint session, both the parties had the opportunity to express how they felt about the situation, and to begin to understand how their own behaviour had affected the other person. Having been excluded from a number of key meetings, for example, the deputy was feeling de-skilled and undervalued. He provided specific examples on how the HoD’s management style contributed to him feeling ‘no good at his job’. For her part, the HoD explained how the deputy had on several occasions ‘blanked her’ in meetings, leaving her feeling very uncomfortable and undermined.
The discussion led to a number of concrete outcomes aimed at building a better working relationship:
Once both had had a chance to understand how each had (mis)interpreted the other’s actions, they were able to begin working together to set down some agreed behaviour for the future.