When many of us hear the word “conflict” we automatically assume that it is a bad thing. After all, isn’t “conflict” the word used to describe wars, fights and other aggressive actions? In reality, a conflict can be a healthy way of entertaining various opinions and working through difficulties. When it comes to a nonprofit board of directors, the conflicts that arise can be handled in a healthy way for the benefit of the organization or they can be allowed to fester and run rampant and cause havoc for the organization.
Any time diverse individuals get together, there are going to be different opinions, belief systems and ways of making decisions. These various approaches can and sometimes do clash. When a board of directors has a shared mission and focus, it can be a positive way of directing all those differences toward the good of the organization, but it takes some care and skill to turn conflict into a positive.
It is important to have a good, healthy structure in place that can withstand some conflict. Make sure that the board of directors has operating procedures and policy that clarify the board’s role within and without the organization and makes the board members’ responsibilities and limitations clear. This way, when conflict arises, it can be easily discerned whether or not it belongs within the organization or not. Also, having set policies, procedures and modes of operating gives individuals confidence to know that they can express themselves in a safe and healthy manner.
It is also important for board members to disclose any conflicts of interest that may arise. This is another way to keep communication and operations clean and uncluttered. If a conflict of interest arises, a board member can then step down or aside and allow others to tend to the business at hand.
If the conflict seems too “touchy,” consider bringing in an outside, neutral facilitator to help maneuver through the rough spot. Just having a skilled, objective person involved can make a huge difference in how quickly and productively the conflict can be resolved.
Try to keep the conflict contained within the board entity'”it can be quite problematic if outside forces, the organization’s staff and others get involved in a board conflict. People take sides and it can get blown way out of proportion.