Hansel and Gretel are two capable, very well motivated welfare rights advisors. They both work on the same team for an advisory service although at times, they work on different shifts. They each have their own caseloads but because of the shift system, there is some overlap and on innumerable occasions they have had to provide advice and assistance to each other’s clients.

Hansel is much older than most of his colleagues. He is highly experienced but has no formal qualifications. He meticulously adheres to written procedures and although his managers have had no grounds for complaining about the standard of his work, he is seen as being a little bit “old school” and on occasion has been guilty of not thinking things through.

Gretel who is considerably younger than Hansel has an impressive array of qualifications but relatively little in the way of practical experience. However, she is well regarded by her managers and has achieved quite a lot in a short space of time. In contrast to Hansel she is rather more upfront with clients and outwardly appears to interact much better. She also has a number of what she terms “new ideas” that she is very keen to implement and considers herself to be much more proactive than Hansel.

Gretel considers that Hansel is old fashioned and has gone so far as to call him a dinosaur. Hansel considers that Gretel is “all talk and no substance” and the two of them have argued at team meetings and on one occasion in front of a client in a public waiting area. Further difficulties have arisen because individual clients feel that Hansel and Gretel are giving them conflicting advice. This has led to yet more arguments, some in the service’s reception area.

Attempts by management to try and help Hansel and Gretel to work together more effectively have failed and because it now appears that other members of the team have been taking sides the situation has become critical. A line manager advises Hansel and Gretel that if they do not resolve their differences, the first stage of the charity’s lengthy, quite complicated disciplinary process will be instigated and it is suggested that they go to mediation.

At mediation, although Hansel initially appears indifferent to the process, both he and Gretel appreciate that the current state of affairs cannot continue and aside from the fact that their clients may suffer, they run the risk of formal disciplinary proceedings. In the course of separate individual sessions with the mediator, Hansel and Gretel both carefully consider their respective positions. Although they are initially reluctant to make any concessions, ultimately each concedes that the other is well motivated and that there are strengths and weaknesses in their respective approaches. Additionally, both of them separately acknowledge that the clients come first and that at the very least they should not have argued in front of a client.

After two hours or so of private sessions, and much to Gretel’s surprise, Hansel suggests a joint session in which he acknowledges that his colleague’s approach to her work has some merit. In turn, Gretel concedes that she has allowed her view of Hansel to cloud her judgement. She suggests that they agree to disagree, go back to work, cooperate and jointly consider how they can reconcile their approaches and ensure that they give their clients the service they need.

Although they shake hands, both parties feel that at this stage it would be premature to enter into a written agreement. They agree to “give it six months” with the proviso that if they cannot resolve their day to day issues, a further mediation can be convened. One year later, one of the charity’s managers anecdotally mentions to a senior colleague that things between Hansel and Gretel have improved considerably and that it is unlikely that a further mediation or indeed any formal disciplinary process will be required.

Assisted by the mediation, Hansel and Gretel have accepted responsibility for resolving their dispute. Additionally, they are very relieved that they have avoided the risk of formal disciplinary proceedings. Their managers are satisfied that the overall quality of service they provide to their clients has improved.

The charity’s trustees are also very pleased and are mindful that the quite exacting disciplinary process that they would otherwise have been expected to oversee is costly and time consuming. They also estimate that a large four figure sum has been saved and that the mediator’s modest fee was money well spent.

Principal Director of ASM, civil/commercial, workplace, employment, family and educational mediator and trainer with a judicial/legal background. He has knowledge and expertise in dispute resolution in a wide range of areas and disciplines and mediates online.