A vital part of any workplace mediation is the opportunity for participants to brainstorm solutions and resolve their own issues. Brainstorming is invaluable. However, it can be a huge distraction when not facilitated well.
Brainstorming comes in two distinct and separate discussions.
The first piece is designed to allow participants to share their thoughts on resolution with the mediator -- thoughts that are unqualified and often imprecise. The ideas are shared in front of the entire group. However, this first step is best held as a discussion just between the mediator and a speaker. And importantly, this is the 'no-judgment' part of brainstorming. All remarks by others about an idea's value are held until later.
Participant ideas are boarded by the mediator exactly as presented -- boarded without definition, without feedback and without qualifying questions. The participant is stating the option typically in its rawest form at this point.
All parties are solicited for their individual ideas until finished. It is worth noting that even repetitious options are boarded when presented by another person. More often than not, the person presenting the new version of an option has a different context in mind.
The second piece of brainstorming is the return to each boarded idea for the purpose of qualification. Questions are asked to help assure a full understanding of the proposal. "What is meant by this?" "How would this work in the long run?" "Did you mean to suggest that...?" There still are no criticisms or judgments passed on the viability of the ideas. This is the time to flesh out the details of an option, but only exactly as the person presenting the idea intends, not as others would have it.
The time to challenge the boarded ideas as workable (or not) is the next item on the agenda. During this "challenge" step the mediator has the entire group link the boarded options to previously agreed common interests and goals.
Brainstorming does not require a great deal of time, although the complexity of the issue is a determinant of the time needed. Giving all participants the opportunity to have their ideas heard, boarded, qualified, and debated (and perhaps accepted) is vital. It allows people to contribute to the eventual resolution and it improves trust among those participating.
Brainstorming is indispensable to workplace mediation. And the careful use of it is part of the joy in being a workplace mediator -- leading a group to its own best conclusion. Not to mine, but to theirs.
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.