13 July 2009

Mediation in worker co-operatives

Bob Cannell has kindly provided a summary of the 37 page ACAS guide to mediation. A topic of interest to worker co-operative and other equal status organisations where management authority is is not available to "sort out" arguments between peers.

Mediation is increasingly recommended (ACAS, CIPD) as a method to resolve conflicts and disagreements between people at work. Unresolved disagreements and blocked communication can cause serious long term damage to cooperative team working and business performance.

Mediation is a method by which people can take responsibility for resolving their own disagreements with the help of a facilitator, the mediator. There is little paperwork because the process relies mostly on verbal communication.

What is Mediation?
Mediation is where a mediator helps two or more people to reach an agreement to change behaviour. Any agreement comes from those in dispute, not from the mediator. The mediator does not judge or tell them what to do (beyond making suggestions). The mediator is in charge of the process of seeking to resolve the problem but is not responsible for the outcome.

The stages of mediation

  1. A complaint is received by Personnel
  2. Personnel ask the parties to accept mediation to resolve the issue. (if they refuse, it might become a formal grievance or disciplinary)
  3. Personnel agree a mediator (themselves, other member(s) or an external mediator.)
The process

First contact with the parties
The mediator meets the parties separately. To set the guidelines for the mediation process. To allow them to tell their story and find out what they want out of the process.

Joint meeting
Hearing the issues
  • The mediator brings the participants together and invites them each to put their side of the story during a period of uninterrupted time.
  • The mediator begins to summarise areas of agreement and disagreement and draw up an agenda with the parties for the rest of the mediation.
Exploring the issues
The mediation is now about encouraging communication between the parties, promoting understanding and empathy and changing perceptions. To begin to shift the focus from the past to the future and begin to look for constructive solutions.

Building and writing an agreement
The mediator encourages and supports joint problem-solving by the parties, ensures any solution and agreements are workable, and records agreements and respectful ‘agreements to disagree’.

Closing the mediation
  • Once agreement has been reached, the mediator will bring the meeting(s) to a close, provide a copy of the agreed statement to those involved and explain their responsibilities for its implementation.
  • If agreement cannot be reached, other formal procedures may later have to be used to resolve the conflict.
  • Nothing that has been said during the mediation can be used in any future proceedings.

Conditions for Successful Mediation

Not a First Resort
People should first try to resolve disagreements by themselves and managers/co-ordinators should not use mediation to avoid their responsibilities for people and team leadership.

Trained Mediator
  • If possible, Mediation training ACAS or CEDR should be done in advance of it being needed.
  • With goodwill from the parties in dispute, lack of training need not be a reason to delay.
  • Starting meaningful communication between the people is more important.
Time and Place
  • Mediation works best if started promptly.
  • The first stages must not be rushed by time pressures.
  • Length of meetings depends on the people involved.
  • Many mediation processes take one day or less to complete
  • The place must be private with a private room to break out into if a calming down period is needed.
Voluntary and Co-operative
Both (all) parties must agree
  • to use mediation.
  • to want to achieve a cooperative resolution.
  • to be prepared to ‘give and take’.
Mediation does not work if one ‘side’ is seeking revenge or is determined to win at the cost of the other or does not intend to be open and honest.

Informal and Flexible
Both parties must be prepared to be flexible and allow the mediator to facilitate the process.

Personal and Unrepresented
People only use representatives or ‘go betweens’ in mediation where they cannot be in the same room together. email, video links, telephone can be used if necessary.

Non-speaking work friend companions are sometimes useful. NB some people need interpreters or care assistants.

Anything said during mediation is confidential to the parties. They may choose to reveal some or all of what has occurred during the mediation to colleagues but only if all parties agree. The only exceptions are where, for example, a potentially unlawful act has been committed or there is a serious risk to health and safety.

When Should Mediation not be Used or be Stopped?
Where clear evidence exists (including detailed written accusations) of serious Bullying, Harassment, Intimidation or Discrimination, the employer has a legal duty to protect employees by intervening, investigating and stopping any such behaviour. Mediation then can be used to repair relationships.

Reasons to Stop Mediation
  • One party wants to withdraw from the process
  • The behaviour of one or both parties becomes unacceptable
  • Emotions and /or distress make progress unreasonable.
  • The mediator realises that the issue is too serious for mediation and should be a formal Grievance.
Morally binding but not legally enforceable
Both parties should realise that mediation agreements are morally binding, you have given your word, but that subsequent ‘backing out’ of mediation agreements cannot be prevented.

Agreements and Failure to Reach Agreement
Mediation is not a mechanical process. People may agree but not change behaviour. People may not reach agreement but then change behaviour. Mediation should be easy, cheap and convenient enough to be repeatable whenever required, even with the same people with the same problem.

Feedback and Debriefing
It is useful for the mediator if the participants briefly give feedback about the process and the mediator’s role.

Mediators need space and time to recover from what can be an exhausting and emotionally demanding experience.

Further information on Mediation can be found on here.

No comments: