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When times are tough it pays to work together

In today’s economy and faced with a cycle of crises, some businesses will die, some will survive, and some will see the opportunities it presents and thrive.

One of the essential skills that will define the survivors is the ability to make tough decisions in the face of change, challenge and conflict.

Surviving a crisis:

Rolling with the recession: how HR can succeed

Thriving in uncertainty

Resilience – how to futureproof your business

A cycle of crises

Today the world faces a series of unprecedented challenges, a cycle of crises, arguably greater than any faced certainly since the second world war, but because of the integrated nature of the modern world, perhaps of much greater severity.

These include war, pandemic, financial crises, famine and food insecurity, mass migration of peoples, racial and religious intolerance, and climate change and energy transition.

All of these have to some extent been with mankind since the beginning. The difference now is that all are coming together in a perfect fire storm.

Collaborate or die

Imagine a pub or restaurant. As the warm weather recedes, trade starts to drop off, the costs of heating and cooking food increase alarmingly. Food shortages and price rises start to impact.

Suppliers are struggling too and staff are worried about their own jobs as well as energy and food costs at home.

Businesses are already being severely impacted by these challenges and more will suffer as winter progresses. Tough decisions must be made if businesses are to survive and the key question then is who should make those decisions and how.

The questions then are:

  • In times of crisis, do you come together and collaborate, or do you split into factions?
  • How do you react individually and as a group?
  • What is your strategy for surviving when times are hard?

Mediation skills, tools and mindset

Traditionally, mediation is a process of tough decision-making facilitated by a third party who has no stake in the business.

The aim of mediation is to guide participants through a process that helps them to engage with each other to have difficult conversations and to collaborate in finding a way forward in challenging times.

For example, business owners might take a unilateral approach to decide on cost-cutting measures and staffing levels. Or they might take a multilateral approach involving staff as well as other stakeholders to share thoughts and ideas, listen to concerns and create a plan for the future. 

Linear vs lateral thinking

In a crisis, the temptation is to find a quick win or early decision. To be able to signal to staff as well as to the outside world that all is well. Top-level decisions are made behind closed doors using linear thinking with limited exploration of ideas, options and scenarios and subsequently announced using linear thinking and a 'decide–announce–defend' model.

The alternative is to employ lateral thinking, gathering as much information and from as wide a variety of people and resources as possible. To agree on decision-making criteria and subsequently reach a resolution using the 'consult–agree-action' model.

Deciding together

Using mediation to involve staff and other stakeholders in decision-making can pay dividends and help manage some of the stress and anxiety that both might be feeling.

At a time where sustainability is a key consideration, creating durable solutions by involving and empowering staff could make all the difference as to whether your business survives the cycle of crises or not.

Involving a third party can enable the people in deciding together!

The Tao of the Third Party

The 'Tao of the Third Party' and why empowering people to make their own decisions matters most, adapted from a poem by Lao Tsu, China 700BC.

Go to the people

Live with them

Learn from them

Start with what they know

Build with what they have

And with the best third party

When the work is done

The task completed

The people will say 'We did this ourselves'

By Jane Gunn, a former city solicitor, now a full-time mediator with 20 years experience of mediating commercial cases