Conflicts & Disputes on Your Association Board: Causes and Prevention

15 Sep Conflicts & Disputes on Your Association Board: Causes and Prevention

Conflict on boards of directors is natural. However, when conflict escalates and starts to become disruptive disputes, becoming more of a concern than the items on your agenda, it is often due to some these reasons:

  • A difference of opinion on policies or votes and/or refusal to abide by group decisions
  • Disagreements with association staff or within the staff itself
  • Overbearing officers (“structural” conflicts)
  • Dysfunctional board members (“toxic” board members)
  • Members not pulling their weight or performing agreed-upon tasks
  • Financial pressure or differences about allocation of funds
  • Resistance to change (elections, new staff, new policies, revised mission, etc.)
  • Drowning-man syndrome (more people becoming involved in a dispute)
  • Poor communication styles (suffering in silence, back channeling, gossip, etc.)
  • Differences in conflict styles (yelling, appeasing, avoidance, etc.)
  • Personality clashes
  • Value conflicts
  • Problems arising from association members
  • Legal issues


When it comes to conflict on your board, it helps to remember one of Mr. Miyagi’s best adages in “The Karate Kid.” When trying to explain defense to his young student, the sage instructor advises, “best block no be there.” Likewise, the best way to deal with disputes on your association board is to try to avoid them in the first place, not by sticking your collective heads in the sand but instead by setting up a system that encourages a harmonious board and nips any potential friction in the bud.

  1. Make sure all board members understand their roles and responsibilities from the start. Put this in writing with a board contract so there are no misunderstandings and so that everyone is held to the same standard.
  2. Set terms for your board so that there is natural turnover and less complacency or resentment.
  3. Look for staff members who expressly desire a cooperative workplace. Ask them specifically at interviews how they have handled conflict and disputes in the past.
  4. Provide training in conflict/dispute resolution for both staff and the board of directors.
  5. Whenever possible, seek a president or board chair who is a natural diplomat, preferably with strong negotiator or facilitator skills.
  6. Check in with your board of directors to make sure there are no silent conflicts festering. (Open conflict is scary, but it’s often better for the organization in the long run.) If there has been a history of disputes, or if you uncover silent conflict, set up a formal grievance process.
  7. Make sure information is being shared equally among board members.
  8. When considering changes that might provoke disputes, look for win-win scenarios to gain group agreement.
  9. Encourage the board of directors to bond outside the stress of the boardroom by holding get-togethers or regular retreats.