I’m struck by the contrast between two excellent articles in the Coaching & Mediation Weekly recently.

As one of them suggests, one of the key strengths associated with the mediation process is its flexibility. However, too many of those involved in a mediation process lack the confidence to control and design a mediation around a dispute, rather than the other way around. Sticking to a tried-and-trusted formula is tempting, but just because certain mediation models are reliable, it doesn’t mean they will work in all cases. The sage advice given by the author is to talk to all stakeholders in a mediation about whether to customise the process. If an alternative approach can work, while maintaining credibility and integrity, then the only question worth asking must surely be “will it increase the likelihood of a successful outcome?”

It’s important, however, to understand the value of best practice and appropriate structure as an underpinning for flexibility. This week, as another of our features reveals, the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR) has announced an updated version of its Model Mediation Clauses and Mediation in Employment Policies guide. For many years CEDR has been developing an extensive library of model documents in many different languages with model procedures and templates – and these are downloaded an estimated 20,000 times each year. Business practices have evolved since the guide was first developed and so the latest version of the guide should be seen as a modern toolkit.

There is no contradiction here – there is a place for both flexibility and structure in mediation. The flexibility to allow for creativity to solve a workplace dispute and the structure of best practice to know what “excellent” looks like. The two are not mutually exclusive and in an increasingly complex world, users of mediation will need to rely on both to achieve the best outcomes.

Caroline Sheridan, Chair, Workplace and Employment CMC group and Founder of Sheridan Resolutions