Conflict amongst your trustees
Charities’ boards of trustees are normally made up of a diverse group of people, with differing skill sets and backgrounds. As a result, conflict often occurs where trustees have opposing opinions.
However, conflict is not always a bad thing and having a diverse board of trustees can bring any positives. Trustee diversity is being encouraged by the Charity Commission.
Our world is evolving, both culturally and ethnically, as we grow to understand the impact of religion, gender, background and other characteristics. As a collective of like-minded individuals looking to gain advantages for our charities, our beneficiaries and our communities, it is important to actively cultivate the differences between those sitting around the table and those charged with governance.
A diverse board can unintentionally also lead to a divisive or critical environment that has to be controlled. We can assume that each trustee has been chosen for a specific role, that their experience will often lead to different conclusions being drawn, that each is informed and intelligent and all have an understanding of your charity’s pursuits and goals.
Therefore, let’s accept the tensions that naturally arise, and learn how to manage them.
Where conflict lies
How do you talk to each other? The communication processes in place need to be adequate for new trustees being appointed, as well as established representatives of the board. Information provided at meetings needs to be comprehensive, complete and consistent while serving the different needs and interests that may seem to compete with each other around the table. While each and every person may have a talent, they should also have a full appreciation of what their peers are involved with; it will harbour acceptance and respect for colleagues.
Differences of opinion
While the charity’s objects are agreed and articulated amongst the trustees, is there a true shared view of mission and vision? It can be surprising how a diverse group of people can value similar targets with such different emotional receptors! However, we want our trustees to care, to be human and understand other people’s concerns and fears, acknowledge that feelings matter.
Never be afraid to reiterate the charity’s message. It is important that to maintain a steady ship, the board must stay balanced and ‘on point’. Make sure those involved grasp some of the wider issues binding all charities – the importance of confidentiality, use of volunteers, fundraising principles, the training they should expect and responsibilities of a trustee.
Certain roles may present a natural defensiveness over others, e.g. the Chair with overriding accountability or the treasurer with an admiral sense of ownership of the figures. Undertake a review of board dynamics, to grasp the personalities of each member and how they will cope under certain stresses.
- Listen – communicate – feedback. Attention to each other is a way to manage conflict before it has taken hold. At least once a year, a meeting agenda point should be to reflect on communication values and how they can be bettered.
- Soft skills management may be a requirement for those new in the role of trustee or leadership.
- When all else fails, there may need to be a conflict resolution process undertaken – a skill that should be on the list of abilities instilled in the Chair.
Next month we will focus on how conflict can have a positive impact on decision making, ideas and communication.