Board Conflict: The Secret Meetings

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By Akash Ghai, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Development Three

We often come across small and mid-sized NGOs that have an established presence in their field of work. Most of have established a board not only as a regulatory requirement but also as a team who they look to for guidance and support. In most cases a board is composed of talented and well-educated individuals with specific attributes who volunteer their time to support an NGO in its endeavors.

Today’s article looks at “Secret Meetings” and the board. Secret meetings are just that, secret meetings. These meetings keep select members “in the know” on certain issues and decisions. These completely undermine the purpose of having a board. Such meetings create conflict, which leads to miscommunication, poorly executed decision-making and a lack of trust surfacing.

Picture the scene, you’re a board member for an NGO and you’re at this Quarter’s board meeting. Your Chair and the other members have made a crucial decision without you knowing. Why has your contribution to the decision been dismissed? What would you do in this situation? Who would you approach to address this issue?

It is usually the Chair’s responsibility to inform all board members and senior management staff of any decisions that have been made. Acting transparently and considering the opinions of members and key staff is vital. The Chair should have a strong character profile. He or she should possess qualities to absorb the opinions of all members and make well-informed collective decision. The onus is also on the member to actively participate and contribute to discussions. If you’re just sitting on the sideline and not making valid contributions, maybe that’s the reason why you’ve been left out of the discussion. It’s a two-way street.

Trust is important for a board to be productive. By having secret meetings professional and personal relationships can be thrown out of sync. This can foster a toxic environment where conflict becomes commonplace. It is very difficult to bring trust back to the group but an outside perspective could help. By getting the perspective of an external person who will listen to all parties could give help prevent conflict from arising. If there is reluctance to pursue external advice, actively taking responsibility to prevent secret meetings from happening rests with the Chair. Any decisions made needs to be communicated across the entire board and relevant senior management staff and be noted in the minutes of a meeting.

As a final point, the sole focus of the board should be the small or mid-sized NGO it guides and supports. Having secret meetings can create unnecessary absent-minded conflict. All members must sing from the same hymn sheet in order to empower, grow and add value to an NGO and its mission.

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