How to Embed a Mediation Culture into Your Organisation

Posted in : Workplace Mediation on 21 December 2017
Dorcas Crawford
Edwards & Co
Issues covered:

In the fourth of a series of four videos on workplace mediation, Scott Alexander, Head of Learning & Development at Legal-Island, interviews mediator Dorcas Crawford about how to embed a mediation culture into your organisation.  Other videos focus on:

In this interview, Dorcas:

  1. Stresses the need for senior management buy-in (and how to get it) for mediation to filter into an organisation’s culture
  2. Talks about how to cascade mediation down through an organisation
  3. Highlights where to find further information and help if you want to embed mediation into your organisation’s culture
  4. Considers the limits of mediation


Scott: Welcome back to the fourth and final video in this series on mediation. I'm here with Dorcas Crawford from Edwards & Co. She also has a mediation business called The Better Way. In the fourth video, we're going to look at how to embed mediation culture into the organization. So, Dorcas, I think there are lots of benefits of mediation. Do you think there's lots of benefits of mediation?

Dorcas: Absolutely.

Scott: Hopefully all the viewers now think there are many benefits. But embedding it or mainstreaming it into an organisation is all easier said than done. So have you any advice?

Top down proactivity

Dorcas: That's right. It is hard to embed it and I get frustrated when I end up with mediations that are at almost at the door of the tribunal, because I can see what could have happened if they'd been more proactive as an organisation and how it could have been prevented. And of course, in any business, particularly small businesses, coming out of the recession, watching every penny, trying to make a success of things and things are beginning to take off, you need to be proactive. Prevention is definitely better than cure. And I've written a lot of blogs and articles for business magazines about how to be proactive in your organisation about conflict.

People generally do not try to find help until there's a crisis. So the trick is to see it as being a culture and a strategy that you have embedded. The word you've used, Scott, is a perfect word, into your culture. My advice on it is that you start from the top down. So the partners in an organisation, the directors, the board, whoever it is that runs that organisation. The owner, the managing director, from the outset needs to be thinking about, "This organisation's going very well, but what happens if conflict arises?" Because it will, because people are people. And where there are people, there is conflict.

And they need to be thinking proactively. So starting in the boardroom, the way you conduct your meetings, have you considered what happens at a meeting when there's an elephant in the room? Some of the work I do in The Better Way is training boards in managing conflict. It has to start at that level, so if those people who run the organisation understand the concept of tackling conflict, and have practices and policies in place before it arises, that will of necessity filter down into the organisation.

Scott: Do you use a specific language? Do you use the language of the board and focus on cost? We talked about costs in one of the earlier videos.


Dorcas: Absolutely. The bottom line is something that really affects directors and their decisions. Often, the non-executive director in an organisation will be the one to flag up, "We need to be careful what we're spending here." One of the most difficult things is to persuade people that spending money on prevention is a wise thing to do, rather than waiting for the crisis to arise and then having to spend more money. So I do a lot of work with boards on the costs, on the effect on the bottom line, and there is much research on that.

There's a lot of information about that on The Better Way website, about board disputes and how one or two directors on a board being in disagreement with the others and not handling it well can take down an entire organisation. There's great research has been done on that. So starting at the top is key.

Cascading mediation down through an organisation

The next thing then in terms of letting that cascade down through the organisation, one of the things I recommend that we have in our own practice at Edwards & Company, practising what we preach, is including mediation clauses in all staff contracts.

So what that means is that where you're looking at the first port of call is a grievance, or disciplinary procedures, etc., that what we do is we include a clause in the employees' contracts that say mediation is possible when conflict arises, and it's quite a broad term to use.

Whether it's employee to employee, employee to management, employee to boss, whatever it is, we ask them in their contracts, we say, "We will ask you to consider mediation before anything else. It does not affect your legal rights and it does not affect your statutory rights. You may put a grievance procedure on hold while you explore mediation. You still have the right to come back to that." But we find, and I'm finding in my mediation practice, that companies that have that clause find it much easier and people are more inclined to go straight to mediation.

Often, people do not want to go down the road of a grievance. They don't want to be seen as a troublemaker. They don't want to start a process that gets out of their control. Before they know it, staff are being interviewed and having to make statements etc. They really don't want to go there if there is another mechanism, but often, in the past and until recently, there hasn't been another mechanism. So if you're really at the end of your tether with the person that you share an office with, and you cannot cope and you're dreading coming to work on a Monday morning, and you don't have an alternative except to make an actual complaint, then that's very hard.

Because either you don't make the complaint and the thing stews and festers, which is a really bad scenario, or you do make it and you go down a road that becomes immediately very divided. People become entrenched, people have to become embroiled in making statements and being interviewed. If you have in front of you another option, which is a much more . . . may I use the term "civilized" process for dealing with it? Then already that's going to bring in a culture where people are more inclined to try to actively resolve disputes.

Scott: Now, from a board point of view that means it's cheaper and quicker.

Dorcas: Of course.

Scott: And from an employee point of view, it's less painful.

Dorcas: Much less painful.

Scott: And it helps resolve the issues, moving forward. So if you can embed it, it's fine. If not, the alternative is you have employees who write everything down, are busy gathering information where they can beat the other side rather than join with them and work properly together…

Dorcas: And that may just be because they're so desperate that they don't know what else to do. If they don't have an alternative and somebody has said to them, "Look," your union rep or somebody has said, "The only thing you can do here is make a complaint," and when they make the complaint the first thing that the manager dealing with them says is, "Have you got the details?" Of course, they're going to have kept a diary or they need to keep a diary.

So, yes. It encourages practices that are really divisive with the staff. So that's another benefit for the organisation is you're not getting into that division. You're trying to put it together instead of tearing it apart.

Where to find further information and help

Scott: Okay. And if any one of the viewers want to get you in front of the board to explain the benefits, would you be happy enough to do that?

Dorcas: Absolutely. On The Better Way website, there's quite a lot of information about board disputes, about disputes that involve training and teaching people at board level or at managerial level or senior management teams. I do quite a lot of seminars and work with senior management teams to train them how to pick up conflict early. How to deal with these things. How to put together a policy. And we often work with them to put together what I call a charter of conduct, where they on their own, managing their own meetings, have a way of dealing with it and a protocol. And then it makes them more conscious as well.

So yeah, I'm always delighted when senior management teams invite me in to train them on conflict because that shows the signs that they're beginning to think differently, they're beginning to change their culture.

Scott: And what about other organisations? Any other websites out there you'd recommend?

Dorcas: There's some really good information available on the Web. CEDR, the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution, have lots of really good information.

They have a very broad website with particular areas on workplace mediation, and there's good information there on definitions and what mediation is, and so on.

The Mediation Institute of Ireland has some information on there.

There's a bit on Legal-Island's own website:

And there's a lot on The Better Way To website.

So people can certainly find out good information, but I'm always very happy to talk about mediation. Too much, maybe.

Scott: And assuming that people want to embed or they want to go down this route, how long might it take to get a mediation-rich organisation, if you like, established?

Dorcas: To change an entire culture, I suppose, that depends on the size of the organisation and whether people are willing to buy in. To change a culture it probably isn't a quick process, not an overnight thing. But if everybody has bought into that, and if the people at the top are really leading it and living in their own meetings what they're trying to encourage employees to do, it's not that difficult to do with a bit of guidance.

The limits of mediation

Scott: Okay. Now, there must be limits to this wonderful process. What are they?

Dorcas: Limits, yes. There are of course cases that involve maybe an element where there is some punitive aspect to it. So for example, if there's been abuse or if there's been very serious bullying, or very serious harassment, and there is an aspect where the person just has to be punished, I suppose, then that's generally not something mediation can deal with.

Also there are cases, of course, that need legal precedent  so need to go to the Employment Tribunal on issues of interpretation of legislation maybe, or pay matters or things like that.

So, yes. There are some limits when it comes to those big questions. But generally, I think honestly there are very few disputes that this is not appropriate for.

Scott: Thank you very much. That's the final video in these four videos that we’ve had. So thank you very much to Dorcas Crawford from Edwards and Co and The Better Way. Hopefully you'll be in touch with us and you'll give us some other titles and we can do some more videos later. Thanks very much.

This article is correct at 21/12/2017

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Dorcas Crawford
Edwards & Co

The main content of this article was provided by Dorcas Crawford. Contact telephone number is 028 9032 1863 or email

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