This article was first published in The Mediation Journal. It is reproduced here with the kind permission of the Journal’s editor, Hannah Randolph.

Mediating workplace disputes with multiple parties is a different prospect from the more usual two-party process. Group cases may include subjects such as ‘serial bullying’, lack of team cohesion, poor performance and communications, and traditional industrial relations issues such as conditions of employment. There is a steep increase in complexity with a greater variety of ‘facts’, needs and interests, definitions of issues, feelings and behaviours.

Mediation, of course, due to its flexibility, is perfectly suited to deal with such  factors.  Some things to watch out for……

Firstly, you’re going to need a strong mediator, someone who will not be unduly intimidated by a large crowd. The mediator needs to be able to keep control so that the experience is constructive and engaging for all attendees. Use of a co-mediator can be helpful, especially for working separately with smaller groups, or just for ‘emergencies’.

Secondly, room choice is important – squashing 20 people into a small room for an afternoon is not recommended and you will need extra space for break-outs.

Thirdly, pre-mediation work is essential and developing commonalities around issues at an early stage is recommended, even if this means an additional short sub-group meeting or two. Avoid everyone arriving to the joint session with completely individual sets of issues and approaches. The mediator can help by use of framing and re-framing to better organise information.

Fourthly, use time to good effect. In multi-party mediation initial statements can take a long time, and those with poorer concentration levels may switch off more quickly than in a two-party mediation where the immediacy of the person sitting opposite keeps things fresh. Think about time limits, frequent use of summary, and ensuring no ‘broken records’.

Finally, look for active agreement rather than ‘silence means agreement’ and deal with any residual resistance.