One of my hopes for 2015 is that the UK will begin to better understand the benefits of mediation as an effective dispute resolution tool.
In a country where we have adversarial systems of both government and justice, it is no surprise that mediation hasn’t had the uptake one would have hoped. There is a strong cultural view of accountability, rather than of finding a solution.
Where we do see mediation in action, it is often deployed as a “tick box” or “last ditch” step on the way to an escalated set of actions in the workplace, courts or at tribunal. The mediation is frequently there to show it has been tried, before resorting to action which offers adjudication and sanction, rather than finding a real resolution.
So often, I have found myself called in to be a part of a mediation process where this has been the case, only to help arrive at a sensible resolution which has not involved a costly and lengthy court or tribunal process.
These instances have demonstrated the potential savings benefits of mediation. It is often not until the final bill has been picked up from the courts and the lawyers that those involved appreciate the cost of not mediating. Some disputes involve ongoing relationships which will have to continue long after the formalities and have many implications for effective working/ productivity, etc. Good mediation looks to that reality and factors this into the process.
Some companies have gone down the route of internal mediators which, whilst saving money, risks the fatal flaw of a perception of bias. Confidence in the system is critical to successful mediation, so ultimately this can be a more costly approach.
There are now a good number of trained mediators who are not members of the legal profession and, as a result, are much more focussed on crafting a solution which respects the honour and viewpoints of all parties. It is no longer the sole purview of lawyers.
A mediated solution, which takes into account the key concepts of people’s individual values and individual dignity, is an attractive alternative for companies and public bodies, and is far preferable to something which results in ritual apologies, or direct action, such as dismissal. People also make mistakes and mediation reflects that, without focussing on blame and seeking a form of punishment to show justice has been done.
A good mediation is also an opportunity to identify the reasons behind problem generation within an organisation and to make it stronger through identifying responses to those reasons. For example, when discussing the dynamics which have resulted in mediation, it frequently becomes apparent that management coaching, team building or training may be required.
By denying themselves the opportunity to explore such issues, owners, managers, and human resources leads miss out on discovering ways of potentially improving their businesses, and the people within them, which may never otherwise come to light.
David Cliff is Managing Director of Gedanken Ltd, based in Houghton-le-Spring which provides Management Development, Consultancy and Mediation services. He is Vice-Chairman of the Institute of Directors’ North East Board.