In 3rd sector organisations disputes amongst board members, trustees and staff can have a crippling effect which can be ill-afforded in a world of diminishing funding and financial challenges.
In addition to the financial cost to an organisation, the implications of conflict and dispute for the people involved can be destructive, depressing and debilitating on a personal level.
A recent report by CEDR and the IFC on Board Disputes* included the results of a survey in which
42% of board members surveyed said they believe conflict reduces the level of trust in an organisation
29% believe a dispute has affected the survival of their organisation
67% said they were involved in unresolved ongoing disputes.
The usual pattern in such circumstances is for board members to carry on trying to run an organisation with issues being brushed under the carpet where they fester and escalate to the point where the board becomes dysfunctional. Ineffectiveness at board level cascades down to every level and ultimately the whole organisation suffers. Something that began as a minor disagreement between board members grows into paralysing conflict that prevents decisions being made throughout the organisation.
In addition to the damage, there is a serious issue for the trustees of a charity who have a duty to resolve disputes. The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland provides guidance on the issue:
‘A dispute is a serious disagreement within a charity, which left unresolved, can lead to a breakdown in the effective governance and day to day management of a charity. Disputes most often occur in membership charities, but can also arise within the trustee body and between trustees of different charities’.
The Commission expects
‘..the trustees and the members of a charity, where these exist, to work in the best interests of the charity and to seek to resolve issues where they have the potential to damage the charity.
The fact that a dispute exists does not necessarily mean that the Commission will become involved. We expect those involved to have exhausted all other means of resolving the dispute before approaching the Commission’.
It goes on to endorse mediation as a way of resolving disputes.
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the better way provides a service aimed at preventing, diagnosing and resolving disputes through education, facilitation and mediation.