Mediation in Organisations

Abridged version in English of the original


One of the fields in which conflict mediation is developing further is that of organizations, and its goal is to become a suitable tool for both organizational change and conflict resolution so that they primarily recognize its origin in the work being done by the members within the organization. This article reviews the state of the art regarding organizational change through facilitation while proposing appreciative mediation as a possible methodology through which mediation could be introduced in the organizational field. 


Keywords: Mediation in Organizations, Appreciative Mediation, Organizational Change, Conflict Management in Organizations

Delimitating the concept of organization is by no means an easy task. An organization considered as a study subject is «created, developed, it lasts and/or dies out» under different time and place circumstances, which makes its characteristics to be no common, i.e., they have no similarity with the definitions used a few years ago, which also explains why a theory or a way to understand the organization prevails over the other characteristics of a specific time.

  1. A first conclusion to be drawn is that the concept of organization changes with the historic development and evolution of a society, an example of which can be at least three different paradigms (Castro-Aguilera, 2005, p.65):
  2. The rational paradigm, according to which an organization is considered as a closed stable and highly structured system that requires control and planning.
  3. The technical, social and economic paradigm, according to which the organization increases its ambiguity and complexity as its actions are extended to all the activity sectors of the individuals enhancing their level of life.
  4. Currently, organizations are understood as «political arenas» or «organized anarchies» (Rodríguez-Fernández, 2001, p. 55) due to the intensity in the degree of the internal and external uncertainty that exists in them.

Types and structures of organizations:

Formal Organization (represented through organizational charts): designed and structured based on certain rationality criteria. It has a common goal, communication channels are established, it is somehow legally binding, authority is delimited as well as functions and the way of acting to be cooperative, convergent and synergic (Montalván-Garcés, 1999).

Informal Organization (represented through sociograms): it is created in a spontaneous way based on a Formal Organization, but it has no defined and institutionalized structure, it depends on the actions to be developed at a given time and on those who want to participate in it. It has no common goals that are explicit, and its members may belong to different levels and functional areas (Rodríguez-Pérez and Morera-Bello, 2001).

Although in any organization both structures coexist, it is important to emphasize the direct relation between the size of the organization and the need to reinforce its formal structure as controlling activities, behaviors and the results evaluation depend on it.

  • Formal Structure: it is made up according to the design envisaged by the management. Two types of leadership exist in this structure, a) hierarchical and b) functional; and there are, at the same time, two classes of relations a) linear or authority relation –which contributes to achieving the goals of the organization– and b) staff or advise relation –which supports the linear staff–.
  • Informal Structure: it corresponds to the real functioning of the organization, it can be figured out by observation, inferring it from the actual behavior, i.e. it is always achieved taking an indirect way.

We should not make the mistake of creating an image of the organization as if it were a machine, that is, a group of isolated individuals, without their own motivations, who have a passive attitude and with limited or no predominance, as «ignore them would imply being doomed to failure» (Casado, 2001, p.14).

Organizations as a field to develop the personal skills of their members can contribute to and become an opportunity to achieve the renovation of democratic societies; this statement is backed by Peter Senge when he affirms that «It is not by coincidence that the current call to «participate and self-manage», the keys to competitiveness, are linked to the need to develop the essential skills for responsible participation». (Senge, 2004, p.524).

According to the explanations above, my proposal to delimit the organization concept is as follows: Organizations are systems that combine, on the one hand, the community tradition they are rooted in, and, on the other hand, the entrepreneurship proper to the business world, generating as a result of this their own meaning and purposes where people commit to the organization (Conforti, 2012).

As far as we are concerned, and interesting for us to know is the processes that can respond to the question: What conflict management system can be efficiently used within an organization?

  1. The so-called «Facilitation» processes that are generally applied to organization conflict situations that somehow lead to a cooperative consensual process and to a structural change.
  2. «Appreciative Mediation» between members that have strong or uncompromising stances, or that show such a high general hostility that an additional process is needed to resolve the conflict so that the person can continue to work in the organization.

No matter what process the conflict operator might be attempting to start, the truth is that designing a conflict approach system is particularly fed by the systemic thinking, the design of an intervention to change, the research processes, establishing relations, redesigning, and the implementation of strategies.

Facilitation Processes:

«Usually, facilitation is recognized and mainly used for complex processes as the multiparty conflicts, when dialogue tables, consensus groups and cooperative planning are required. This means that processes are complex and multiparty. They are complex because different designs are used to approach these processes that usually take a long time and that include normally a team of facilitators». (Mc Cormack, 2008, p.62).

Facilitation processes seek to prevent the risk that emerges when «imposing» a structural change, as it might be a conflict approach system that «the others» decide not to use it. Therefore, the main idea is that people concerned should build the change (be it a conflict approach system or not) because if it is them who build it, they will use it, improve it and own it.

«Operating with an open system perspective in the field of organizations yields at least two significant results: 1) the identification of the key research areas concerning the potential field of incoming, transformation and/or production of the current system of conflict approaching in organizations, and 2) it brings to light dissonances, dysfunctions and dissatisfactions». (Constantino and Sickles, 1997, p.65).

Below are the six principles that should be present in any facilitator project or plan (Conforti, 2012, pp.52-53):

  1. Focus on principles: bring to light, clarify and illustrate an issue from the needs and concerns of interest groups perspective.
  2. Include return ways: such as prevention, negotiation or research when the current procedure does not manage to settle a dispute.
  3. Include low cost alternatives based on the right and the strength: the realistic vision that initial efforts are not always successful and that it is necessary to rely on reasonable alternatives that give low cost efforts continuity in order to achieve satisfactory solutions.
  4. Include previous consultations and later feedback: the approach system must be designed in such a way to encourage the debate about the nature of a conflict and the best ways to resolve it even before efforts to do this are started.
  5. Order the related procedures and the cost growing sequences bottom up: this way, the parties keep the process under control for as long as possible.
  6. Provide the necessary motivation, capacity and resources: focus on the factors that enable the success of the other five principles. It is clearly oriented towards the participation and empowering of the concerned parties.

Appreciative Mediation:

An approach to the definition of Appreciative Mediation is: «Appreciative Mediation is process that generates the ideal framework to change the reality of participants through appreciation and the recreation of the people’s positive aspects and their interactions». (Conforti, 2014, p.120).

The goal of the mediator’s job is to get the parties to appreciate and legitimate each other, so that they can reveal the successes of the past when they managed previous conflicts and played a leading role, and the coordination and cooperation they put into practice to solve them; after that, the mediator has the task to make proposals to recreate previous successful experiences of the people when they resolved conflicts.

The techniques or tools proper to this work can be found in (Conforti, 2014, p.129) the principles that the theory of the systems attributes to human systems (totality, circularity and feedback). These own and autonomous techniques are a) the appreciative principle, b) the use of metaphor as an innovative resource, c) the principles of positive psychology and emotional intelligence. Hence, I believe it is possible to state that the proposal responds again in an autonomous and independent way compared to other proposals of other mediation models.

This type of mediation requires certain prior conditions for a feasible application. These conditions are (Varona, 2005):

  1. Integrity of the process: committing to and allowing the participation of the people in the process and in the decision making
  2. Integrity of the human change: each member of the organization must see «the change he/she wants to see» as a living example.
  3. Perseverance in the change: being open to learn and find out new possibilities to see things and act.
  4. Create a rich communication in narration: sharing in conversations, meetings and gatherings, best practices, magic moments, and personal experiences and the most valuable stories.
  5. Ability to create rich images of the future: creating hopeful, motivating and engaging images.

The first question that the mediator should ask him/herself is whether Appreciative Mediation should be used. Perhaps it is not necessary, or it is not good, or less expensive or faster or it lasts longer. Perhaps the current methods work well and it is not necessary to change them.

For this first step to be taken and determine whether to use Appreciative Mediation, a set of simple questions that are easily answered can be useful:

  1. Is there something lacking in these disputes?
  2. Do the concerned parties express dissatisfaction and frustration with all or just with part of the conflict resolution procedures?
  3. How do the concerned parties express this dissatisfaction?
  4. Is the Appreciative Mediation procedure the appropriate way to respond to the concerns expressed?
  5. Would Appreciative Mediation match the goals of the company (its mission)?

The five (5) principles that govern the Appreciative Mediation process are (Conforti, 2009):

  1. Constructionist: whenever the reality is not alien, indifferent or external to the individuals, as they live in a society they co-build it on a daily basis. Those in mediation co-build the reality they live in – new relationship.
  2. Anticipatory: any system or organization can build its own future. Those in mediation must assume that their future depends on themselves, and that all human beings can build the future they wish.
  3. Simultaneity: as we generate the view of how the future could be, we are building this future that we visualize and dream of.
  4. Positivism: the images and positive memories that are stored in the memory of the people in the mediation process are systematically and deliberately chosen; success stories that are sought to be recreated, and regenerated.
  5. Poetic or Metaphoric: given that the human mind understands easier the metaphoric levels, the best way to work on the reality, communicate it and fully understand it is through poetic or metaphoric images. Reality is worked out from the subconscious level of the participants.

As readers can understand, «in appreciative mediation there is a transfer of knowledge from the mediator to the mediated individuals that operates in a pre-mediation phase» (Conforti, 2008); this does not exist in any other practice or mediation model known so far, and this is not whimsical.


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