Helping to run a successful Non-Profit Organization (NPO) is difficult during the best of times but when there are conflicts among board members, especially when these problems involve high-ranking board members, those who have been members of the board for many years, or individuals who are prominent in the community, things can go south exceptionally quickly. Addressing an underperforming director on your board or resolving a serious issue which requires immediate action can soon become an awkward and uncomfortable discussion for everyone involved. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to make it a little more bearable.

Have a conversation about the issue as soon as possible.

Too many board members choose to delay discussing a conflict out of fear of making the matter worse or because they do not feel comfortable to broaching the subject. A lot of board members believe that if they give the problem enough time, things will naturally resolve themselves. In most cases, this is not only untrue but can make the issue even more challenging to address in the future because it has been going on for such a long time.

Instead of ignoring a problem, it is best to bring your concern directly to the chairperson of the board as soon as you can. Most people who lead committees usually have ample experience when it comes to engaging in challenging conservations and can help with advice on how to proceed without causing things to get worse. Besides getting good advice, approaching the chairperson first removes most of the burden off of your shoulders and allows the chair to decide when and how to handle the issue going forward. However, if the problem involves the chairperson or your past complaints have gone unaddressed, it is critical that you bring up the problem in with other board members in private as soon as it is feasible and agree on the proper way to deal with the problem.

Establish a clear and concise governance framework for dealing with issues.

Your board can avoid many problems from arising in the first place and keep things more civil if they do occur by having a proper and extensive framework for governance in place. This framework should not only address the day-to-day running of the board but should include sections on oversight responsibilities, accountability along with established procedures for rectifying any disagreements among the board member. In addition to spelling out the expectations of board members its an excellent idea to include agreed-upon corrective measures should board members fail to meet expectations.

When a robust framework is in place, all board members are aware of the consequences of failing to meet performance standards. Should an issue occur, having a guide to follow can mitigate some of the difficulties when discussing and disciplining an underperforming board member.

Ensure a fair conversation.

Although it is probably that any discussion concerning the performance or behavior of a board member will result in a lively and passionate debate, it is critical that the board does not resort to anarchy. Follow your board’s established guidelines for resolving internal issues and make sure that all members of the board can engage in the discussion. It is critical that the board member under review be able to present his side before the board takes any actions.

No one wants to deal with an irritable director, having a plan makes it much easier for everyone involved.

About Tom (TJ) Abbott

Tom (TJ) Abbott, CSP is the Managing Director of AMC NPO Solutions and an authority on Governance. He has over 25 years experience as CEO, President and board director of several not-for-profit organizations. Tom has also spoken in over 20 countries.

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