It is widely recognised that mediation is ideally suited to resolve a partnership dispute as the partners are all commercial people and the intervention of an independent mediator will facilitate a settlement. However, traditionally mediation is only used after the retirement or expulsion of a partner when at least one partner will be leaving the partnership whereas it has so much to offer in the efficient management of a partnership.
There are four further types of mediation process which can facilitate an improved running of the partnership namely:
• Workplace mediation
• Team mediation
• Partner to Partner mediation
• Fusion mediation
Organisations suffer from conflict. It is how we deal with that conflict which will determine whether it benefits or detracts from our business. Partnerships have the same problems and conflicts.
Mediation is an informal process based on the fact that everything you tell the mediator is confidential who is there not to be judgmental but to facilitate a settlement that both parties find acceptable.
The mediator in the course of a day, or sometimes through a series of meetings, will discuss the issues with both parties. First he establish the facts and the real issues troubling the parties before starting to explore possible means to a settlement and finally records the agreement that the parties have reached.
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Team Mediation is a structured process whereby an impartial mediator facilitates communication between a number of people in a team to clarify the issues between them and to encourage them to find mutually beneficial solutions and agreements that will improve their working relationship in the future
An ideal method of resolving issues in a team where partners have fallen out, cliques have developed amongst the fee earners, morale and performance have plummeted, and there is a lack of managerial focus for the team going forward.
We often find that after some soul searching and reality testing, the team members realise that this dysfunctional approach cannot continue, the partners realise how their behaviour is impairing performance, people realise that somehow solutions have to be found and there is a need to get on. As the partners and fee earners are in control of the solution, and it comes from them rather than being imposed on them, it has a far higher chance of solving the previously deep rooted emotions.
PARTNER TO PARTNER MEDIATION
In reality this is no different from a workplace mediation. The process is largely the same but we are now dealing with issues between two partners.
These will not be issues leading to invoking the grievance procedure or making an unfair dismissal claim but will probably revolve around behavioural issues, poor performance, character clashes, treatment of staff, ambition and differences in opinion on the direction of the partnership.
The staff do pick up on partner issues, it can cause low morale or be divisive, and the conflict needs to be resolved before it begins to have an adverse effect on the performance of the partnership.
More so than staff, partners realise that they must move in the same direction and so the workplace mediation for partners has even a greater chance of success, even though it might be a little more heavy with greater implications.
A cross between a workplace mediation and a commercial mediation. In effect before there is a final fall out between a partner and the firm leading to retirement or expulsion, a mediation takes place so both parties understand the conflict and the other parties’ grievances, so that they can facilitate a settlement before it is too late
Ideal in a situation where the managing partner, or a body of the partners generally, can no longer tolerate the behaviour of one of the partners. This is for the typical maverick partner who fails to comply on many fronts - time recording, billing promptly, missing partners meetings because he is too busy, speaking out against partnership policies - and although one solution is to part company, that partner brings in a significant amount of work and holds some key client relationships, and in reality the partnership can ill afford to lose him or her, or as importantly nowadays repay their capital.
Again the confidentiality and the independent facilitator enables the partners to get to the true issues. If there is a solution it can be found, and if not, the partners can agree to an amicable retirement without bad publicity and damage to client relationships
Mediation is a non-adversarial and facilitative method of resolving conflict within the partnership and should not just be used for resolving a partnership dispute after the retirement or expulsion of a partner.
It's unique process driven by the confidentiality and desire to facilitate a solution rather than impose an agreement, means that the mediation can offer solutions to conflicts within the partnership before they impact on the running of the firm and which promote teamwork and improved efficiency.