Dealing with Board and Committee conflict

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It’s the monthly Board meeting and you and your fellow members are in the process of discussing a new business strategy for the club.  Brett, an accountant and Frank, a liquor store manager are arguing over the same point raised from last month.  You and the other members are getting tired of the constant bickering between these two, yet the Executive Director does absolutely nothing to find a middle ground despite your suggestions.

Although this scenario may be exaggerated, it might sound familiar for many clubs with Board and Committee conflict.

One of the main challenges Boards and Committees face is conflict within. Primarily, this is at the root of poor corporate governance and a lack of direction or understanding of the fey function of the role.

As not-for-profit-organisations, the Australian Club industry has a unique ability to employ a Committee or Board that includes local community members – whether they’re the manager of your local corner shop, an engineer, or other members who can contribute a diverse range of skills and life experience.

This structure gives clubs the unique place in the hearts of their local communities.

Just because you’re working in the not-for-profit sector doesn’t mean you won’t run into your fair share of conflict.  In fact, this area presents different challenges compared to the private sector, some of which include:

Vagueness of Board/Committee leadership
The Board or Committee is generally termed ‘the captain’ of the organisation and takes ownership of its leadership.  A member of the Board/Committee is generally responsible for resolving conflicts.  However, it is disturbingly common for Boards/Committees to not have a clear chain of command which can lead to confusion and blame games.

Diversity
If each Board Member’s talents are not organised to the benefit of the club, this can cause communication barriers and misunderstandings.  Members with strong personalities may try to enforce their decisions on the club without discussing other possibilities with the Board/Committee.

Lack of internal communication structure
You’re not a mind reader, so you shouldn’t expect fellow Board or Committee Members to be either.  Having a good internal communications system in place, promotes democratic debate so that members do not feel intimidated or bullied into decisions.

Throw into the mix personality differences, personal schedules, day jobs and opposing agendas and you’ve got yourself a complex role to manage.

So what’s the importance of corporate governance, and how can it manage conflict?

A well-planned corporate governance strategy can protect your Committee or Board from incurring thousands of dollars in litigation, secure the future of your organisation and help you to prevent conflict within your Board or Committee.

By implementing professional meeting and business procedures, you can use the diverse range of experience and skill set of Board/Committee Members. For example, the following procedures:

  • Ensure that everyone understands and respects the authority of the Chairman
  • Appoint subcommittees to determine the outcome for disputed or complex issues
  • If internal conflict between dissenting Members occurs, ask the Chairman to hold private meetings to facilitate the debate and ultimately come to a solution
  • Develop and adhere to a simple Code of Conduct
  • Develop clear roles and responsibilities for individual Directors with KPI’s
  • Create and facilitate a robust strategic plan
  • Hold regular corporate governance training for new and existing members to ensure everyone understands the purpose of their role and how they are aligned with the club’s business and values.

The important thing to remember is that conflict will always occur, whether you use that conflict to bring growth and change to your organisation, or let it fester and ultimately destroy your club from within, lies in the quality of your corporate governance strategy.

If you have questions about your Board or Committee’s corporate governance strategy, contact John Dickson on 0417 721 942 or email john@dws.net.au for a confidential discussion.

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