Actually, all mediations need an agenda. Not a national policy agenda to advocate the use of mediation. Not the type of personal agenda that some participants arrive with to bang about the other party. But rather a simple meeting agenda.
The meeting agenda is a tool too often overlooked by those scheduling a mediation.
Mediation works best when there is a structured approach to the meeting (not to the flow of conversation but to the hours of the day). Before the meeting begins the parties should receive an agenda from the mediator. This helps set expectations and serves to reduce participant apprehension about "how the mediation thing" works.
- The agenda outlines the issue. This gives focus to solving only the problem at hand - and helps avoid all the noise and unrelated baggage that is often attendant in disputes. It discourages wandering.
- The agenda outlines the steps that the participants are taken through by the mediator - such as writing a succinct statement of the problem, exploring common interests and brainstorming old and new options.
- The agenda states time limits for each stage of the discussion. This assures forward progress. Time limits help deter the group from repetition. When participants know that one part of the discussion is to begin and end within a set timeframe they can rest assured that they are not going to linger endlessly.
Please note that a structured approach to problem solving with the use of an agenda does not lead to manipulated discussions or premature endings. The frank, creative sharing of concerns and ideas is never displaced in the interest of timing. And it is the mediator's job to assure this. But the agenda, its use of specificity and timed mileposts, is crucial to achieving forward momentum and mutual solutions.
A mediation without an agenda risks leading to a mediation without a conclusion.
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.