September 4, 2018

Board Conflicts: How Might Strategic Planning End Them?

As I write this, California’s ablaze with thirteen fires. We have family near one, so I’m watching closely. Reporters tell us that this fire rages in an area that has been fireless for 40-years.

Blazing fires brings up a 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 on your board? 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 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. The kind of strategy I’m talking about is not the ritual you undertake to humor 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 the boards simmering “afraid-to-open-Pandora-box situations” into controlled burns. A strategy development process is a place emotions get shared. Rational conversations take place. New and better options generate seeds. These options germinate future growth. Strategy work uses fire 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?

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Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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