Organisational mediation: Weeding out conflict

Still too often, organisational conflict looks like “business as usual”. From differences between colleagues to boardroom fallouts, teams that should collaborate sometimes turn into “intense corporate warzones” as Fiona Colquhoun, CEDR Director and mediator defined it at yesterday’s workshop on Organisational Mediation.

Chaired by Fiona Colquhoun, five experts – Emilie Cole, Partner at Bindmans; Scott Maynard, HR Director at Southeastern Trains; Pauline Szewczuk, Employee Relations Consultant at the Bank of England; Sheila Bates, CEDR Mediator and Founder of HR Fusion; and Gillian Caroe, CEDR Mediator and trainer – gathered at Allen & Overy on Thursday 26 January to share their experiences and observations with a group of Human Resources and Employment Law professionals. Together we sought to get a better insight on such crises, and how to manage conflict as early as possible and resolve disputes if they escalate.

Organisations – a propitious soil for conflict

There are so many reasons why conflict can appear and relationships fall apart in organisations: Disagreements on governance; politics between chairman and CEO; personality issues and clashes between egos; budgets; mental health difficulties; rise of technology leading to unforeseen difficulties; the list is endless.

Human Resources departments are often the first-in-line when difficulties arise. Their role in managing the organisation’s people enables them real insight on the social climate and culture, and its consequences for the whole company. Unfortunately they are not always armed with the correct tools to tackle  conflict issues early on.

These situations are made more complex when emotions are particularly high. This is something our speakers had often observed regularly. Examples they gave included businesses where members of a same family collaborate and clash; where long serving staff have been there for decades and are often resisting to change; professions where social identity is strongly linked to professional identity; or, where management is of poor quality.  The most common consequences the panel has observed in many organisations are  major clashes between egos; disputes between union representatives and managers; feelings of resentment between colleagues or towards the executive; etc. that mix individual emotions and corporate difficulties.

These are situations that our panel members have experienced first-hand, and see the positive effects mediation skills can have on workplace well-being, morale, benefiting corporate culture and productivity.

Mediation for fertile collaboration

In her twelve years of experience as a solicitor, Emily Cole has seen a real increase in mediations, and more lawyers advising their clients to take this road rather than go to court. The Employment Tribunal often gets entrenched parties who even after judgement are unable to find satisfactory resolution. It is even worse when there is the need to preserve on-going work relationships or when there are complex mental health needs that require managing. What mediation offers is an opportunity for the claimant and the organisation to find a positive outcome, seeking creative solutions that no other process could give them. Through mediation, unlike the tribunal, the outcome can be built of non-financial solutions such as apologies, official announcements, recommendations, training, redeployment etc. Moreover, mediation, if sought early on, can protect or repair relationships, by creating better understanding between parties and focusing on the possibility of looking forwards. To put it simply, in times of conflict, mediation can make the difference between a complete disaster and an outcome that is positive to everyone.

Mediation is, at its core, about helping everybody move on. It can be easily shaped to meet any type of need, whether industrial action, boardroom disputes, or perceived workplace bullying, etc. It also goes beyond “playing the neutral third party”. The development of empathy, communication skills, distance-taking and proactive management of conflict gives the practitioner – whether a professional mediator, manager or HR professionals – an ability to have a global overview of the dispute and difficult relationship.  This perspective taking, is valuable for any organisation wanting to proactively manage conflict which can ultimately lead to improved personal and organisational well-being. The flexibility and adaptability of the process and skills of mediation can assist organisations to take back control over (sometimes recurring) situations of crisis and to take ownership of their social climate and employee wellbeing, and move towards a collaborative and people-focused organisational culture. Ultimately this leads to better employee satisfaction, increased productivity and talent retention, diminution of sickness-related absence, not to mention a potential financial advantage over other organisations – time diverted to dealing with conflict can now be put towards managing the business.


Our next Morning Workshop will be held on 11 May 2017, and will look at mental wellbeing in the workplace. Details can be found at:

CEDR’s next 3-day Certificate in Employment & Workplace Mediation Skills will take place on 15, 16, 17 March 2017. Details can be found at:

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