There is a lot of pressure on Board of Directors. They come together for a very short amount of time and are expected to make informed decisions on some rather weighty and important topics, plus network with each other, plus maybe even have some fun every now and then. Plus everyone and their brother wants time with them at the Board meeting, so it is critical that they can work through these challenging conversations very quickly, or else their effectiveness drops considerably.

Yet very few Boards are given any kind of training or instruction in dealing with the #1 reason Boards fall behind in getting through their conversations: conflict.

Surface disagreements are not usually a problem. Directors tend to have enough professional experience to navigate the world of simple conflict. But what about when there are opposing values in the room? What about when there is a core disagreement about which strategic direction the organization should follow? What if some Board members feel that other Board members are pursuing their own more personal interests rather than protecting the interests of the organization as a whole? Those are harder to deal with, and Boards that get stuck in those conflicts become ineffective very quickly.

The problem is that most Boards tend to assume that those kinds of conflicts should not exist at the Board level. It seems to represent some kind of failure to them. After all, you’ve all been working a long time to get this seat on the Board for an organization you care deeply about–you should all be rowing in the same direction, shouldn’t you?

Sorry, but that’s not how the world works. Conflict is inevitable, so it is better to be prepared than to blindly hope that it doesn’t happen to you. Conflict should be recognized as a normal part of Board life and Board members should be prepared to deal with it quickly and without drama or trauma.

I’m delivering a training program for an association Board this week on conflict. If you’re interested in a program customized for your Board’s needs, please let me know.

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Jamie Notter