Shared Neutrals Program
The "Shared Neutrals" Program was developed in response to a goal of the Oklahoma
Federal Executive Board to "reduce costs and improve efficiency" for its members.
Below is information on how we began this effort, if you
would like to download a copy of our guidebook,
The "Shared Neutrals" Program is a project to provide mediation as an alternative
to resolve disputes in the federal workplace. The shared resources of the Oklahoma
federal community form this program comprised of forty-four mediators from thirteen
federal agencies in five different geographic areas of the state. This is to ensure
that mediators may be assigned to agencies (other than their own) to emphasize the
mediator's neutrality. The vision is to resolve disputes at the earliest possible
date to increase the quality of communication within the workforce, resulting in maintaining
a productive work environment and reducing cost and time involved with formal processes.
Federal employees in Oklahoma may
services by completing a one-page form and submitting to the FEB Office.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and the establishment
of an ADR Consortium has been a topic of interest for the
Oklahoma Federal Executive Board for many years. We
first surveyed our membership regarding an ADR program in
1994. When FEB members were asked to estimate the
number of employees interested in ADR training, the response
was enthusiastic. Accordingly, in developing the FEB's
Strategic Plan, the ADR Consortium was identified as a
specific strategy to accomplish one of the Plan's
objectives, that of organizing special initiatives to reduce
costs and maximize savings.
In order to benefit from the experience of
an established consortium, the Oklahoma FEB Director contacted the Chair of the
Dallas/Ft. Worth ADR Consortium to obtain advise, "lessons learned", and
suggestions on how to best begin. The Chair of the DFW FEB's consortium,
provided information, advise, and suggestions on how best to begin. After
several conversations between Oklahoma City and Dallas, a meeting was to
determine feasibility and resources available that may assist in training.
A monthly FEB luncheon meeting was
scheduled, dedicated to the topic of Alternative Dispute Resolution, to discuss
the tangible and intangible benefits of utilizing ADR in the workplace, selling
the idea to members in attendance. Separate meetings were scheduled with a few
large federal employers in the area to enlist support.
The FEB Director located training resources within the Oklahoma State Supreme
Court which were available based upon each trainee providing 10 hours of
mediation service for the Court over the next twelve months. Meetings were
scheduled for all the planning participants to discuss the most efficient method
to leverage the available resources. A Leadership Associate began coordinating
the training and identifying facilities.
Due to the interest and number of
responses, the one-week training was conducted twice to provide maximum
participation and reduced instructor-student ratio. Only 30 applications per
session were accepted (on a first-come, first-serve basis); however, every
effort was made to ensure slots were distributed equitably among participating
agencies. Union representatives and Labor Relations Specialists were encouraged
to participate in the training on an "evaluation" basis to determine the value
of the process and familiarize themselves with what would be made available for
federal employees (including all of their members) in the Oklahoma area.
Federal agencies were asked to select
individuals to serve as mediators, providing their services as a collateral
duty, on an as-needed basis. The employees were trained through the partnership
with the Oklahoma State Supreme Court, utilizing a modified version of their
mediation curriculum which has also been bolstered by EEO training provided by
an Administrative Judge, EEOC, as well as advanced mediation training provided
through the auspices of the VA Medical Center. In identifying individuals to
attend the training, agencies were asked to ensure they identified employees
1. Possess strong receptive and expressive skills; are good communicators.
2. Are able to suspend advice-giving.
3. Availability: must be willing and able to commit to the program for one year,
including 10 hours per year to work with the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
4. Have a tolerance for conflict.
5. Demonstrate confidence; possess leadership qualities.
The employee identified for training (and
their supervisor) were asked to sign an agreement of support to participate in
the program for one year to receive the training at minimal cost. Thirty-two
hours of class-room instruction was provided through this partnership to provide
a total savings of $75,754 in training costs, alone.
The second training session was conducted in March 1998. Mediators were prepared
and began with mediation assignments from EEOC Administrative Judges in April
Mediation can be utilized at any point,
voluntarily, or as a result of arriving at the administrative hearing in the
formal stage of an EEO complaint. Dallas District EEOC Administrative Judges are
requiring mediation using the Shared Neutrals Program cadre of mediators.
Mediation is provided as an informal method
of resolving disputes with a fellow employee, manager or colleague. In
mediation, a neutral person (a Mediator) helps two or more persons explore ways
to resolve their differences and reach an agreement to best address their mutual
interests. All parties must be willing to resolve the problem for this process
to be successful. Mediation, unlike arbitration or court proceedings, has no
focus on "placing blame" with the Mediator having no authority to force a
decision on the parties involved. Those involved in the dispute decide what is
important and make decisions based on those factors. A Mediator assists the
parties in becoming "decision-makers" through establishing communication which
leads to an understanding of each other and allows the individuals to create
options and solutions to address their concerns. This process helps individuals
involved in a dispute to communicate with each other; encourages the persons
affected to create their own solutions and examine unique solutions to a problem
instead of referring the problem to a judge, arbitrator or another outside
decision-maker; thus maintaining control by the individuals involved; and helps
the persons involved develop realistic and mutually satisfactory solutions.
An employee's right to pursue court or
administrative action are not affected by this process. If unresolved issues
remain at the end of the mediation, the Mediator and the complainant will state
these issues in writing during the final mediation session, and the complainant
may continue processing them through the formal complaint/grievance process.
Mediations ordered by EEOC Administrative Judges do not defer other processing
of cases toward hearing dates.
The Shared Neutrals Program accommodates
involvement of the following participants:
1. Any current or former federal employee or applicant for a federal employment
opportunity in the State of Oklahoma who has a federal workplace dispute can
participate in the Program
2. Union: An authorized representative for the aggrieved person if: 1) the
employee is covered by a union contract and 2) the dispute could result in a
3. Management participant: The Agency representative who is authorized to
negotiate and execute binding settlement agreements on behalf of the Department.
4. Mediator: An impartial, neutral third party trained in conflict resolution
techniques, who has been approved to participate in the Oklahoma FEB Shared
Neutrals Program. When deemed beneficial, sessions may be conducted in which
co-mediators (two) are assigned to facilitate the process.
5. Attorneys: If an attorney represents a party, the attorney's role must be
discussed with the Mediator prior to the mediation session. In EEOC ordered
mediations, the parties' attorney may appear and participate.
Evaluations to Ensure Ongoing Effectiveness:
The Program is evaluated using three (3) different feedback mechanisms:
1. Customer (User) Survey - This form is voluntarily completed by the users of the
Program (employees, management reps., etc.) at the end of each session.
2. Annual Federal Executive Board Member Survey - This is completed on an annual basis
by the members of the FEB, rating the Program as meeting/not meeting their organization's
3. Mediator Survey - The person most intimately involved in the process completes
this survey which provides their perspective on what works and what needs improvement
at the conclusion of each session.
Statistical Reporting to determine Cost Savings:
* The Dallas EEOC Office is providing statistical information to the FEB regarding
success rates and agencies served through EEOC ordered mediations.
* The FEB Office is tracking the same statistical information regarding agency requested
mediations, as well as receive the feedback forms to track effectiveness and customer
The information will be compiled and shared among FEB members but will omit identifying
information which would violate the Privacy Act. These instruments and statistical
information will be combined to evaluate the ability of the Shared Neutrals Program
to meet the needs of the federal community in Oklahoma. The input also allows for
future improvements and modifications to the Shared Neutrals Program.
The FEB Director and EEOC-Dallas maintain frequent communication in an effort to ensure
the program remains flexible and continues to meet the needs of the federal community
in Oklahoma. As needs are identified, the program is quickly tailored to respond to
unique, as well as routine, demands. This has been the commitment of the coordinators
involved in order to showcase an ongoing, viable program which provides a needed service
to federal employees and employers which results in:
* a friendlier, more productive workforce and
* saves money for the taxpayer.
Results thus far:
> Required mediation prior to EEOC Hearing has resulted in reducing the number
of cases which actually go to hearing (due to settlement).
> Feedback through the forms distributed for input from parties and agencies
indicate 100% agree that the mediation helped (even in cases that did not result in