In a recent teambuilding workshop, I wanted participants to learn and apply the skills related to mediating disputes among team members. Instead of conducting the usual type of roleplay, I asked the participants to stage dramatic segments. The activity turned out to be highly motivating, probably because everybody loves to put on a play.
Different teams create and stage a dramatic segment incorporating key principles and procedures associated with mediating a dispute among team members. One of the teams does not produce a play but evaluates other teams' plays.
To effectively mediate a dispute between two team members.
Best: 16 to 30
(Participants are divided into 3 to 5 teams, each with 3-7 members.)
45 to 90 minutes
Mediation Checklist, one copy for each participant.
Room Set up
Tables and chairs for each team.
Waiting area for the other teams while one team is staging its play.
Brief the participants. Explain that you are going to explore techniques for mediating among team members who are having major disagreements. Distribute copies of the Mediation Checklist. Walk participants through the items on the checklist, briefly discussing appropriate behaviors associated with each item. Encourage the participants to ask questions. Respond briefly and clearly.
Form teams. Divide participants into 3 to 5 teams, each with 3 to 7 members. Seat each team around a convenient table.
Explain the play-production task. Announce that you are going to produce a 3-minute videotape for training facilitators to mediate in disputes among team members. The task for each team is to prepare a dramatic segment for this video and to act it out. Announce a 9-minute preparation time. Because of the limited time, encourage teams to identify a critical situation between two team members, prepare an outline for the segment, quickly rehearse key incidents, and improvise the lines.
Explain the evaluation task. The dramatic segment staged by each team will be evaluated along these dimensions:
Focus. Does the segment emphasize key principles and procedures in the mediation procedure?
Conflict. Does the segment present a realistic conflict that is balanced between the two parties?
Selection. Does the segment leave out trivial and irrelevant elements?
Characterization. Does the segment feature two important and realistic characters?
Setting. Is the segment set in a typical workplace situation?
Authenticity. Is the segment realistic and believable?
Interest. Does the segment attract and maintain audience attention?
Randomly select one of the teams. Explain that while the other teams are playing the role of a production company, this team would play the role of drama critics. Ask the team to come up with a rating scale for comparing and evaluating different dramatic segments along the different dimensions that you identified earlier.
Coordinate preparation activities. Explain that the play production teams and judging team have the same 9-minute preparation time. Start the timer. Let teams work on their own. If the judging team completes its task ahead of time, ask its members to silently observe the production teams in action. Give a 2-minute warning at the end of 7 minutes. Blow a whistle at the end of 9 minutes to signal the end of the preparation time. Send all teams except the judging team out of the room.
Stage the plays. Randomly select one of the teams to return to the room and stage its play. Remind the 3-minute time limit and strictly enforce this limit. Make sure that the members of the judging team are carefully observing the play and taking notes.
At the end of 3 minutes, invite the next team to return to the room and stage the play. (The first team may stay in the room and watch the enactment.) Repeat this process until all teams have presented their dramatic segments.
Ask the judges to announce their ratings. After the staging of the final segment, ask the judging team to make their decisions. Invite this team to briefly explain the items in their rating checklist and to give evaluative feedback for each dramatic segment. After the judging team has presented its feedback, ask it to identify the best dramatic segment.
Present your comments. Congratulate the winning team. Give your feedback, focusing on how accurately each team emphasized the key elements in mediation process.
Conduct a debriefing discussion. Ask questions similar to those listed below. Encourage participants to respond to each question and discuss alternative responses.
- How typical was the conflict portrayed in the dramatic segments? Which one was the most typical?
- Which item in the mediation checklist is the most important one? How did different segments portray this item?
- Which item in the mediation checklist was frequently ignored? What was the reason for teams ignoring it?
- Which item in the mediation checklist was the most difficult one to portray? How did the actors portray it?
- In each of the segments, how would you rate the effectiveness of mediator? How could the mediation performance be improved?
- In each of the segments, did the mediator intervene too much or too little? Why do you think so?
- In each segment, did the mediator appear to be neutral? How could we improve the appearance of neutrality?
- In each segment, how realistic were the behaviors of the disputing team members? How could we make their behaviors more realistic? More challenging?
- If we created a 30-minute segment, what additional incidents and behaviors would you have included?
Not enough time? Reduce the number of teams to three (and increase the number of participants in each team). Stage two segments.
Too many people? Ask all teams to prepare the play but randomly select two teams to stage their plays. Ask members of the other teams act as the audience.
Digitally sophisticated? Ask each team to record its dramatic segment on video. Let all the participants watch all the segments. Ask the panel of judges critically evaluate these segments and select the best one.
1. Frame the session:
- Explain that conflicts are inevitable results of healthy diversity among team members.
- Explain that a well-managed conflict provides an opportunity for future growth.
- Stress the importance of listening to each other.
2. Gather information and analyze the conflict:
- Focus the conversation on the current dispute.
- Ask the disputants to take turns to tell their story.
- Maintain neutrality. Don’t take sides.
- Summarize the dispute in objective terms acceptable to both sides.
3. Help disputants to establish mutual goals:
- Establish task-related goals.
- Establish relationship goals.
4. Brainstorm strategies for achieving the goals:
- Focus on win-win strategies.
- Use a variety of brainstorming techniques.
5. Select the best strategy:
- Ensure that the strategy is fair and equitable for both disputants.
- Set up an action plan for implementing the strategy.
- Identify the first small step for immediate implementation.
6. Debrief the participants:
- Encourage disputants to reflect on what happened.
- Encourage disputants to share their insights for preventing and resolving future conflicts.