Nonprofit Conflicts: What’s Your Policy Fire Suppression or Controlled Burn?
September 4, 2018

Nonprofit Conflicts: What’s Your Policy Fire Suppression or Controlled Burn?

Nonprofit Conflicts: What's Your Policy Fire Suppression or Controlled Burn?As I write this, California still blazes with thirteen fires. We have family near one fire, so I’m counting. Reporters tell us that this fire rages in an area that has been fireless for 40-years.

Blazing fires brings up a nonprofit management question: What is your fire policy? Do you stomp the flames out immediately? Do you let them burn? Or, do you set fires, that is, controlled burns?

Fire, in this case, represents nonprofit conflict. Rephrased my question is: How do you manage the skirmishes part of all human interactions, and common in passion-driven enterprises, such as nonprofits? Do you suppress them, hoping for the best, running the risk of out-of-control future damage? Once they begin, do you hurry to extinguish them or do you direct their course? Or, when the time is right, do you intentionally ignite small burns?

Strategy Work: An Important and Overlooked Tool in Your Conflict Tool Box

When it comes to conflict, you have a collection of management tools. Here’s one tool you might not have considered: strategy work.

By strategy work, I mean, events when you gather your board, staff, and others to design an approach to win. Strategy is a verb. It’s a way of thinking that involves high- level conversations. It is not a ritual exercise you undertake to humor your donors and funders. It’s a management tool. (See the Nonprofit Doomsday Clock for other tools.)

Over and over again, working with clients, I find that well-designed strategy work transforms simmering “afraid-to-open-Pandora-box situations” into controlled burns. Here emotions get shared. Rational conversations take place. New and better options develop. These germinate the seeds of future growth. Strategy work uses fuel, with the potential to destroy your organization and direct it instead to productive outcomes.

Fires and conflicts, you can let ’em roar. Or, with strategy work, you can manage them before they burn out of control. When it comes to conflicts in your organization, which do you choose? What conflicts are brewing in your organization? How will you use strategy to manage them? Let me know. I’d love to help you to transform the places were folks are rubbing two sticks together into your renewal process.

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