"When does mediation have the lowest impact?"
When mediators and participants don't do more than the minimum expected.
I am not singling out any one profession. This isn't about gigging overwhelmed HR directors, willful attorneys, determined mediators, or hard bargaining union leaders. This is about encouraging workplace mediation participants to look past the issue of the day -- and to put to use all of the results of their hard work. Not just some. This is about the multiple, long-term, workable ideas that remain from your brainstorming discussions after the issue at hand is resolved.
During mediation, once the problem is defined, and the parties have discussed their common interests in addressing the concern, a very valuable conversation begins -- the brainstorming of options. Those practical ideas eventually get narrowed down to the most mutually acceptable agreements. But that flip chart on the wall with the other ideas, and those personal notes in your laptop, contain pure gold for potential employee relations improvements.
Here is the challenge, though. How do you take those well-meaning ideas, shape them into practical changes, and perhaps pre-empt future problems?
Well, first, don't just store your notes. Don't discard these ideas because they weren't the most practical considerations of the day. And for goodness sake, don't throw them away. Use them.
But how and when? Right?
The best way to mine this gold is to schedule time at the end of mediation to do a review. Place this review on the mediation agenda beforehand, not as an after-thought. Allocate 15 minutes or so for this wrap up.
One of the group dynamics that works in your favor when you do a review is that you already might have decision making authority in the room. Also, you have the advantages of creativity and cooperation. After all, you have just hammered out a solution to a difficult complaint. Use that energy to pose this question -- can any of these other ideas be pursued to alleviate tensions, stop repetitive problems, begin process improvements, or prevent future communications mishaps?
Many manufacturers have found great ways to make use of residual material. A top chef knows how to use all of the kitchen's food extras for other recipes. Consider the same approach as you wrap up your mediation.
Assure mediation is high value. Work those other good ideas. Place one last quarter hour of time on your agenda and achieve more from mediation than is expected of you.
Thornton Mason is a national dispute resolution consultant and human relations mediator with 25 years of experience resolving over 1200 employee matters. His 60 Second Updates have a current reach of over 400,000 readers. He and Mediation Resolves focus on eliminating formal employee complaints, avoiding internal relationship disputes, preventing grievance backlogs, and restarting stalled labor negotiations.