One of the skills that I am required to draw on quite regularly is a course that I undertook about 6 years ago. Using mediation or conflict resolution as an alternative to following formal procedures is a difficult sell initially but the rewards can be huge. So what is mediation in the work place and how can it be practically implemented in large organisations.
In my organisation we use co mediation, that is working with a mediating partner to resolve issues between two individuals. The discussion initially with the line manager is something along the lines of:
Manager: I have an issue between two colleagues, I have tried resolving this myself but it did not seem to work
HR: Have you considered offering mediation
Manager: Erm, no, but I haven’t got a full day to spare two staff, its not very practical
I would then go on to talk to them about the formal processes, such as bullying and harassment, the various stages of the formal process, interviewing the staff, interviewing witnesses, preparing a statement of case, presenting this to a panel. Eventually this will be brought to a conclusion that is likely to be unsatisfactory to one of the employees and may even have lead to long term sickness absence. I would talk about the hours spent carrying out all this activity, the expense of the staff involved and then ask the question, are you sure that you can’t spare them for one day?
Co mediated days consist of 3 separate meetings. In the morning we would plan two hour long sessions, one hour each dedicated to each of the parties. This gives the individual the opportunity to explain what has happened from their perspective. They are asked to consider what they expect to get out of the mediation session and to think about what they would like to say to the other party, how they might express this to them and to some degree preparing them for the meeting that will take place in the afternoon.
In the afternoon we will set aside at least 4 hours for the joint mediation meeting. This is the opportunity for the individuals to discuss the issues that have brought them to the table in a safe and facilitated way. I use the word facilitated because the discussion should be owned, directed and concluded by the individuals themselves. The discussion is only guided by the mediators to ensure that the issues that have previously been raised are brought out into the open and discussed with a view to gaining an amicable solution. It cannot be underestimated how powerful an outcome that is owned by the individual and not the organisation can be.
Arriving at a final agreement is also owned by the individuals. I would also normally ask not only do they make the agreement but also consider how they might agree to deal with issues in the future and what steps they would take. Much of conflict resolution is also about re-establishing the communication channels and ensuring that they remain open in the future.
Setting up an internal mediation scheme can be a challenge however the benefits to this can be significant in establishing long term lasting solutions which enable staff to work together and build the business.