NHS South Tees

Training Mediators for South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust:

When Rachael Metcalf, Assistant Director of Human Resources at South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, realised her organisation needed to expand their team of mediators by training up a range of appropriate employees, she knew exactly who to approach. Thanks to a colleague knowledgeable with – and impressed by – training-delivery experts Macnaughton McGregor, Metcalf’s professional choice was obvious. Her desired outcomes were multiple: to offer her delegates an enjoyable course in mediation; to offer a training session that would generate not just new skills for the delegates, but would inspire in them the confidence to apply those skills across the organisation; and to provide the Trust with a cost-effective benefit.

“More and more, we were having to go externally to use mediation, and we wanted to bring it back in-house,” explains Metcalf. “Some of the sessions that we outsourced were very difficult. We had feedback from colleagues who said it didn’t really work, that it would be better bringing it in-house to people who know the organisation, who understand how we work, who understand the interactions that take place.” She wanted to make the Trust’s mediation efforts productive – financially as well as practically – but she had to make sure the training would be more effective than a previous course with another contractor: “Some of our delegates felt that while it was good doing the training in a classroom, doing it in a real environment was different – they didn’t feel that they had the skills to be able to continue. “This time, she wanted training to impart confidence as well as ability.

Macnaughton McGregor’s tried-and-trusted approach to delivering compelling, effective training has, at its heart, drama-based activity tailored to individual clients. These actions set the scene, emphasise skills-practice and drive home the new skill set at the end. The three-day course offers a clear and high-impact overview of what mediation is – the elements, the concepts, the methodologies – and then provides delegates with a variety of opportunities through which to practice mediation skills in a realistic, energetic atmosphere. It’s an intimate, immersive glimpse of what they will be engaging with back at the work place.

Led and delivered by facilitator and mediation expert Richard Boardman, the course utilises the expertise of actors, and this “active learning” aspect of the course was one of the delegates’ favourite parts. “People don’t always like to do role-play on courses,” explains John Madden, one of the Trust’s 11 delegates, ranging from senior nurses to divisional managers, who participated in a training session in May. “This was different.”

The actors played out a dispute, then met individually with the delegates to explain their “side” of the story. “We then had to manage the mediation between them,” says Madden. “They demonstrated the situation, then put us right in the centre of the action. The fact that you had the actors there and the fact that you could interact with them – rather than two of us trying to do a role-play situation – was really beneficial. You’re interacting with professionals who are there to guide you.” Having professionals bringing their expertise to the table also brought the training to life: “They interacted in a very real way with you. It made you think, ‘If this were a real situation, how would I deal with it?’ Two delegates wouldn’t have been as convincing. I wouldn’t describe myself in any way as an actor. Having the actors there made a big difference.”

Another high point was a lively auction in which delegates had to bid against each other for a selection of mediation tools and skills. With the actors running the auction in a time-sensitive, realistic manner, Madden says, “You had to think quickly what you’d prioritise. It enabled us to identify, both individually and as a group, what mediation skills were most important. It was good fun – and it made us realise that you need a tool-bag of skills, a range of abilities, to do mediation properly.”

Madden was impressed not only by the fit of the content, but the quality and clarity of the training itself. “That was excellent,” he affirms. “Even things like human dynamics and attribution theory – in my role, I do a lot of training – but even models and concepts that I was already familiar with, Richard put them across in a very good and understandable way. His professional expertise came across, and he had great credibility: it was obvious that he did a lot of these actions and activities and practices in real life. Sometimes you come to a course and you have someone standing up in front of you and you think, ‘Really? When was the last time you actually did this?’ In his situation, it was very clear that Richard practises mediation, that it’s something that he uses all the time.”

For Metcalf, bringing the mediation process in-house not only cuts down on costs of external mediators, it also allows the Trust’s team to address any difficulties or issues as they arise. It’s the difference, Metcalf notes, between simply putting out fires, and being able to address and resolve issues long before any formal and costly procedure is required. The long-term financial benefits are obvious. “If people remain unhappy at work, it’s difficult for all the staff involved,” she says.

“The implications would be that the team will be working ineffectively. People may utilise the sick more than they would have done normally in order to avoid working on shift with somebody, and if somebody comes to work in an unhappy state of mind that obviously that impacts on the care they’re giving the patients. By having a happier work force, we’ll have happier patients.” Also, she points out, going through a formal process is resource-intense; if you can avoid that with a robust mediation programme, that’s a savings to the bottom line as well.

Determined to incorporate the Macnaughton McGregor training effectively into an organisational-wide approach, Metcalf is busy implementing post-course support, including action-learning sets so the mediators can come together regularly to share their experiences, and a buddy system. In fact, feedback has been so strong from the team undertaking the mediation training, that Metcalf’s already booked a second Macnaughton McGregor session for a further 13 employees in early September.

“Everybody enjoyed it,” says Metcalf. “Everybody is, in a strange way, looking forward to someone being unhappy” – a sentiment closely echoed by Madden. “If you’d asked me at the beginning, I’d have probably said I probably knew most of what they were going to talk about,” he says. “But Richard got us to look at a lot of those things in a different way and actually refreshed my skills. I really enjoyed the three days; I felt energised and invigorated by it. We all wanted to come back from the course and do some mediation. People are eager to start applying what they’ve learned.”

So does he feel that he’s properly equipped with a new set of skills? Absolutely, says Madden, who has already put his new mediation skill set to good use. “I used it recently with a fairly dysfunctional team and a two-person dispute. Within the model that Richard showed us, you ask them to identify the critical moments – the things that actually illustrate what the issue is – and that worked very well. It identified and flagged up the key issues, and gave both the people involved a different way of looking at the situation. They found it really useful. We all did.”