Mediation within teams
One of my rules as an external consultant is to ensure that I don’t do the job that managers should be doing themselves. For example, where there are tensions in a team, it is usually the role of the manager to facilitate the conversations that need to happen to address the issues, whatever they are.
However, from time to time, skilful outside support can make a world of difference. The outsider can be more objective, spot collusion more easily, bring a fresh approach, ask the most difficult questions, and sometimes say aloud what had been considered unsayable, even unthinkable.
Equally, now and again, such is the level of breakdown in trust between individuals, that one to one mediation is required. I have done this twice this year, and the results have been transformative. The methodology will differ according to the context, but some broad principles remain the same, and can also be used in a team.
They are as follows:
- Agree the purpose and boundaries of the conversation, and the role of the mediator
- Agree the core issue to focus on – this should be a specific instance that is indicative of the wider problem.
- Each person has five minutes to describe their reality of the situation. The other person listens.
- Swap seats (which helps with shifting perspective), and each in turn feeds back what they have heard and understood from the other.
- Reach common understanding about what happened, even if there is disagreement about details and rights/wrongs etc. Don’t get bogged down in detail. This requires compromise.
- Repeat again, emphasising, acknowledging and encouraging active listening. This time, focus on how each has felt.
- Each in turn feeds back on how the other feels/has felt. This is hard to do and takes assertive boundary keeping by mediator to keep focused. What is different now?
- Re-contract about what we might reasonably expect of each other from now onwards.
Wherever possible I encourage some attempt to use this structure internally before seeking outside help, but sometimes there comes a point within a team where an objective outsider can provide the impetus for positive change.