Dealing With Conflict: Toolkit

The default responsibility for dealing with conflict situations lies with the Chair, and this is assumed in the points below.  If the Chair is party to the conflict, management committee members may wish to nominate someone from their membership to take responsibility for resolving the situation.

These suggestions are tools available to committee members.  Consider what would be appropriate to your circumstance and what would help address both the causes and the symptoms of conflict which are damaging your organisation.

Some of this material draws on NCVO's online guidance for trustees in England and Wales.  It has been adapted for use here with their kind permission.

Remember!  Don't be afraid to ask for help.  Confidences will be respected and it may help to discuss your options with an experienced advisor.  Click here for organisations who can provide support.

What's in your toolkit?

Code of Conduct

  • If you don't already have one in place, then this might be a good time!  A Code of Conduct provides management committee/board members with clear guidelines as to their standard of behaviour, responsibilities and best practice in fulfilling their obligations to the organisation.
  • Use discussions regarding the Code of Conduct's content to reiterate what is expected from committee members.  Ensure you agree procedures for dealing with a breach of the Code and establish who will enforce these.  Ask all committee members to sign the agreed Code.

Clarify roles and boundaries

  • Make sure everyone is aware of their remit and role.  Often problems arise where an individual has more than one role within the organisation.  Clarify ‘which hat they are wearing'.  Develop written role descriptions, if these are not in place.
  • A training course for all, focusing on boundaries, may be more helpful for some groups.

Tackle issues through support and supervision

  • The Chair is responsible for ensuring both committee members and the most senior staff member receive regular support and supervision.  Use these opportunities to listen to concerns raised and identify root causes of conflict within the committee.  Refocus individuals on their role and responsibilities in relation to the organisation.  

Focus committee members on their commitment to the organisation

  • Management Committee/Board members should always act with integrity and in the best interests of the organisation and its beneficiaries.  Highlight the actual/potential damage to the organisation to help focus and resolve the conflict.
  • Strategic planning discussions can help to refocus the committee on the organisation's mission and purpose, if the conflict isn't already too damaging.  Consider using an outside facilitator to manage discussions more constructively.
  • A founder may feel particularly resentful of a newcomer who tries (as they see it) to change things without appreciating the organisation's history.  However, they must accept that the role of the management committee/board means they may set the organisation in a new direction.

Review how meetings are run

  • Often the way in which meetings are run, decisions are made and committee members participate has a significant impact on the opportunities for damaging conflict.  Have a look at our guidance on Running Effective Meetings and the related articles and resources.
  • Consider running this review exercise with your whole committee - use an external facilitator if you think it would be more helpful

Plan a team-building exercise or away day

  • This can help to build greater understanding and rapport amongst committee members.  Consider holding facilitated discussions on key topics or areas of dispute to help make progress

Seek advice

  • Whilst respecting the privacy of the individuals concerned, discussing the situation with relevant support organisations can help to clarify the issues at stake and identify suitable options for addressing the conflict.

Consider mediation

  • Consider using an external mediation service.

Consider removal as a last resort

  • Members can only be removed according to the provisions in your governing document.  Check the parts on removal or disqualification.  There are certain statutory disqualifications in law.
  • Check your governing document for restrictions on length of service by committee members.  You may find that some members are nearing the end of their term of service.
  • Make sure you have taken steps to address the conflict issues before new members join the committee.  They may then be able to refocus and enthuse existing members.
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