Management in the Not for Profit Organization

Dedicated to Exploring the Philosophies and Techniques of Management in the Non-Profit Sector


Leading management team meetings effectively requires solid interpersonal skills and a knowledge of group dynamics.  The full range of skills and knowledge is needed.  However, one facet seems to garner most of the attention:  conflict management.

Team members often come from different geographic regions, function-based units, and/or technical areas.  Thus, conflict is invited by the variety of points of view.  Therefore, we should expect that conflict will arise.  Yet, a lot of leaders seem to be caught off guard when a voice is raised, or a hand pounds a table. 

It is a strange thing.  Many of us who work in not-for-profits are human service professionals.  One would think that we would be able to handle it when we are exposed to strong negative emotions.  But that does not appear to be the case.  In fact, conflict management appears to have taken on a life of its own.  It seems to have been elevated to a higher, and maybe even a separate type of expertise.  This is quite odd when one considers that agreement, when achieved improperly, can be just as destructive as inappropriate disagreement.  But all one needs to do is a quick Internet search for "Conflict Management", and countless sites will be found.  Many of these are hawking their own special ways of managing conflict.  The market appears to be huge.  It seems that we just cannot handle the negativity and loudness of conflict in our teams.  Our reactions make it harder to manage than necessary.  Remember, conflict is not necessarily bad.  The key is to keep the conflict productive.

Here are a few basic rules to keep in mind when working with conflict:

· If the team/group/meeting is going in circles, the conflict is unproductive.  Interrupt it and redirect the activity.  One way to do this is to simply state that the group seems to be going in circles.

·If members are issuing personal attacks or insults, interrupt it and set boundaries.

·If the topic changes to something outside of the group’s mission, table it unless those who set the mission agree to include it.

· If you disagree with something, say so appropriately – and encourage others to do so as well.

· If nonverbal cues tell you that some people in the room are uncomfortable with someone who is raising her voice, ask the shouter to tone it down (preferably separately) and/or ask the other group members to listen through their discomfort and discover whether or not the loud person has a point.

· Watch for counter-dependent people.  They can be the wild cards leading to the group’s destruction, or its greatest potential for innovation.

· Long pauses can be a sign that people are weighing an idea, completely turned off, distracted, or in some kind of a trance.  Look at the body language in the room, and comment on the silence.  Ask individuals about what they are thinking.  That is part of how one brings the process level to the content level.