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The Tinker Air Force Base ADR Program: Lessons Learned

The award winning Tinker Air Force Base ADR Program shares its lessons in developing and implementing an ADR program:

a. Facilitative mediation is extremely important in maintaining the appearance and methodology of neutrality. The most successful mediations accomplished at this installation were accomplished with the Mediator not evaluating the case or making any recommendations.

b. Obtaining as much information as possible at case intake, not only about the issues of the case, but also about the parties (personalities, potential for intimidation, emotional responses, language barriers, hostility, etc.), has directly contributed to quicker and more successful mediations. This type of information can assist an ADR program in selecting an appropriate mediator and preparing the mediator mentally up-front, which can lead to better and more complete agreement options for the parties. If the Mediators are prepared and at ease, they can keep the parties at ease, thus consistently maintaining control of the mediation.

c. Briefing the parties prior to mediation about their roles and responsibilities prepares them for mediation and decreases the amount of time of time spent mediating. That preparation process also includes an overview of the mediation process (opening statements, joint discussion, etc.) along with an explanation of the do’s and don’ts for parties. Our installation resolution rate increased a great deal (approximate 15%) with the use of this method prior to mediation. It also puts the parties at ease before the mediation and sets the whole tone for the mediation.

d. Training mediators to co-mediate is also important. Not everyone can co-mediate. It can be very distracting to the parties if the team is not working as a team.

e. Giving value to everyone at the table up front contributes to the understanding of everyone’s role and appropriate discussion especially where reps are concerned. When everyone is clear of roles and equal value early on in the discussion, there tends to be less confusion and less posturing.

f. Be careful of placing too much value in early mediation training. A great deal of research and analysis concerning the subject has been accomplished in the last 3 years. Some techniques taught in earlier mediation training (such as evaluating the aspects of the case, not knowing anything about the case or parties prior to the mediation session, stopping parties from interrupting one another, representatives not having a voice in the session, asking a lot of questions, asking what it will take to settle up front in the mediation, etc.) have since taken a back seat to more progressive techniques and methodology. For example, we have learned that the more you know about the details of the case from both sides and the more you know about the parties, the mediator can be even better prepared to assist the parties because they can explore better, more realistic options with the parties. This gives even more value to the process and decreases the time spent in mediation as well.

g. It is important to provide continuing education to mediators keeping them current in theory, techniques, and methodology. These updates help them assist parties in coming to more complete and better informed resolutions.

h. Specialized communication training such as active listening has proved invaluable to our mediators. Many learned the value of recognizing what is not said in mediations.

i. We have also learned that grievance mediations are much more time-consuming and in many case, more difficult to mediate. We feel this is largely due to working with lower levels of management (lowest possible level sometimes means first line supervision) usually more personally and professionally involved in the situation or dispute. A mediator in grievance mediations spends much more time separating both parties from their positions and the problem, which is more time consuming and takes even greater mediations skills. We have often experienced much more emotional and physically taxing mediations in grievance disputes than EEO complaints.

j. The Tinker ADR Program Office utilized many of the mediator criteria identified in the Air Force Advanced Mediation training in the selection of new mediators this year. We feel these criteria and early, on base new mediator training contributed to a cadre or mediators that exhibit even better abilities to assist parties in quicker, more complete resolutions.

k. We also accept disputes in which complainants have not filed a complaint through any system such as the grievance process or EEO process. Since the program was designed to be a “first line of defense,” we feel this is being achieved to some extent. These types of disputes are categorized in our briefings as “other complaints.” Disputes of this nature typically have to do with hiring practices, payroll problems, staffing issues, safety issues, shift work, communication problems, as well as a variety of issues that could potentially end up in a formal arena.

l. ADR does produce results that are superior to the formal workplace dispute resolution systems. It provides for an opportunity to evaluate much more and sometimes more inclusive information. When individuals are better informed, they can obviously make better-educated decisions.

m. ADR also provides an education opportunity allowing both parties to become better educated not only about the importance of good, valid communication, but also how to communicate better.

n. The process also has provided consistent information to mid-level management that they might not have come in contact with otherwise such as safety or lack of training issues.

o. Other benefits are intangible. Supervisors and employees have stated the program has helped in the working relationships of employee and supervisors. Several supervisors have stated that the program brought together the shop and the employee involved has become a more productive or one of the most productive employees within their organization.


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