Board Dynamics: Don’t Let Conflict Turn Toxic

Conflict can be a good thing, but a rift among board members at the National Cricket Association in India has gone public. That’s not so good. What can you learn from NCA’s public in-fighting?

Healthy relationships, including those between association board members, have their fair share of disagreements. It’s those small tussles that tend to result in fascinating and deep conversations. But allowing a minor disagreement to turn into a full-blown conflict can be downright harmful to an organization. Just ask India’s National Cricket Association.

Biswarup Dey, a disgruntled member of the NCA board of directors, went public with his feelings about the organization earlier this week, questioning the board’s “lackadaisical attitude” at a time when NCA is going through major policy changes. The he-said-she-said between Dey and other members of the board was reported in detail by the Press Trust of India news agency.

But the blame game doesn’t help anyone, said Robert S. Adams, an arbiter, mediator, and former association executive. “Rather than trying to figure out a solution to their situation, they’re taking up a lot of time and energy pointing fingers and figure out who’s to blame,” Adams said. “I see that in more cases, where people want to say that they blame so-and-so for whatever their problem is. But in reality, what does that matter?”

A toxic conflict among board members is harmful enough, but the damage can increase exponentially when it’s out in the open for the media and members of the organization to see.

“It will cause deterioration” and lead many members to resign, Adams said. “It’s a severe PR thing. I’m not going to be a member of an organization or a board where I know I have to walk in and deal with somebody else’s conflicts. There are a lot of people who just don’t want to be around that kind of stuff.”

And when a conflict arises between board members, it’s almost guaranteed that the entire board will be drawn in, Adams said. “Board members are going to start picking sides, which could permanently damage the association.”

Boards can do several things to prevent toxic conflicts from occurring—or to rein them in if they do happen.

Have guidelines in place at board meetings. “If somebody brings up an issue and it’s not on the agenda, put it on the next agenda unless it’s an emergency,” said Adams. “If somebody is speaking to an issue, after 10 minutes give them one of three options: Do you need 10 more minutes, do you need to send it to a committee, or do you need to put it as an agenda item for the next meeting?”

Never leave a meeting angry or with unfinished business. Destructive conflict will surface when a board meeting ends with issues unresolved. “You want a group to disagree, but before you leave the room, you need everyone to at least be in a mutual understanding and consensus,” Adams said.

A board chair must diagnose disruptive behavior and quickly resolve it. “As the president or director, you’re job is for the greater good,” Adams said. “Take time to recognize and quickly resolve recurring issues. And remember to frame the communication process in terms of dialogue rather than just presenting outcomes.”


Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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