Organizations today are using empowered teams to deliver services better, cheaper, and faster than those in traditional hierarchical work-places. In such environments, people are more responsible for everything, including their relationships with each other. With traditional managers fast disappearing, you can expect to be called upon to mediate differences that emerge between your associates. This will challenge your interpersonal skills, sense of fairness, and patience. These guidelines will reduce the possibility of the problem "exploding" in front of you.
BEFORE A MEDIATION MEETING
Determine whether the conflict is serious enough to warrant action. A serious conflict is one that affects the morale of the team and its ability to serve its customers.
Evaluate whether your associates are able to solve the problem themselves. If they have the maturity and experience to resolve the matter on their own, encourage them to do so. Make sure you follow up on the matter. If it has been suitably dealt with, compliment your colleagues.
If the problem is disrupting team performance and the associates involved are unable to solve it on their own, set up a meeting at which both people will be present.
In your planning for the meeting, gain an understanding of the issues by establishing the nature of each person's problem. Are the issues real or are they simply misunderstandings?
Prepare a meeting room in which you have two chairs facing a flip chart or chalkboard. Your chair can face the two combatants.
AT A MEDIATION MEETING
Confirm that both associates have agreed to your mediation.
Describe your role as mediator. Indicate that you will not take sides. By remaining neutral, you will help the parties produce an outcome that satisfies both of them.
Go over the background information. Keep the tone positive. Establish and get agreement on the goal for which you want each person to strive. Say, for example, "By the end of our meeting we want to —. Do you agree to help meet that objective?"
Establish rules for the meeting. Each person should
show respect for the other's ideas;
try to see the other person's viewpoint;
focus on the problem, not on the other person;
look for commonalities rather than differences;
make an effort to find a solution.
Review in a non-threatening manner what will happen if the problem remains unsolved. For example, you can say, "If we don't solve the problem, the tension will continue to increase and will affect our service. I will then be forced to impose a solution — something I am reluctant to do."
Use humour to relieve tension. For example, try exaggerating the problem to help your colleagues put it into perspective.
Ask the combatants to state their positions as objectively as possible, and then summarize in your own words to aid understanding. Help the parties prioritize the issues, focusing on the important points. List each person's key issues on the flip chart to aid objective consideration.
Deal with the most important issues first, alternating between the two lists, to get to the root of the problem. Ask for suggestions; if your colleagues have none, start with some of your own. When you discover the cause (or causes) of the problem, summarize and confirm agreement with your colleagues.
Once the cause has been determined, focus on solutions. Get each party to come up with solutions and dates by which they will be implemented.
At the end of the meeting, summarize the discussion so everyone will be clear about the cause of the problem and how it is to be resolved. Thank your colleagues for their co-operation, praising them if they have shown openness and taken chances.
AFTER THE MEDIATION MEETING
Set up a progress-review meeting. If the situation has improved, praise your colleagues and offer your continued support. If things are much as they were, find the cause and keep working with the parties until they can reach a friendly solution.
If one or both of the parties refuses to co-operate in resolving the situation, and your team's performance is being compromised, you should recommend disciplinary action.