How to avoid conflicts on a volunteer committee

Conflicts are less likely when everyone is focused on the goal, clear about how they can contribute and appreciated for their efforts


“I’m so tired of being ordered around or dictated to – I’m done with this!”

“I can’t believe they didn’t even discuss this with me. If they want to make all the decisions, then they can do it themselves.”

volunteer conflictsVERNON, B.C. Oct. 20, 2016/ Troy Media/ – If you’ve ever been on a planning committee, condo board, conference committee or not-for-profit board, you’ve no doubt heard a version of these words uttered.

The negative impact is immense. This type of conflict creates a host of complexities and hard feelings that linger.

So finding a way to avoid sparking that conflict should be priority No. 1.

Co-ordinating a group of people with different personalities is never easy. Fatigue, demanding work loads and other events can cause unintentional breakdowns in communication and perceptions of value. Friendships disintegrate and defensive behaviours polarize the team.

Each volunteer comes to the table with their own hopes and expectations. So leaders need to be constantly vigilant about how they communicate and sustain everyone’s enthusiasm for the work.

Where do you start?

Volunteers need to know, regularly, that the group (and the leader) values their time and efforts. People are giving their time to a cause that pulls them away from their families and other responsibilities. So each volunteer needs to know that they are appreciated for this sacrifice. Without that recognition, most volunteers won’t continue to show up. Expressing how their time and effort makes a difference helps reduce tension.

I’ve often heard leaders say that they are simply too busy to “babysit” – that they expect the team to “just do their job.” But announcing that you’re too busy to focus on the relationships within a group is a sure-fire way to have the group implode and stop performing. The leader’s primary responsibility is to ensure that relationships are nurtured and enthusiasm is maintained. No individual should think that they’re shouldering the load so a leader who is too busy to check in can take the credit for all the hard work.

Volunteers come in all shapes and sizes, have different learning styles, ideas, idiosyncrasies, etc. That means leaders need to be understanding, flexible and adaptive if they hope to keep the group high functioning.

So how do you keep teams happy and productive?

Obviously, it’s important to know what motivated people to step up in the first place.

Way back in 1988, psychologist David McClelland pioneered workplace motivational thinking that can be applied to volunteerism. His Human Motivation Theory states that every person has one of three main driving motivators: the need for achievement, affiliation or power.

Essentially, achievers like to solve problems and achieve goals. Those with a strong need for affiliation don’t like to stand out or take risk, and they value relationships above anything. Those with a strong power motivator like to control others and be in charge.

This can help you understand the individuals on your team and when you provide feedback, focusing on their motivations will help.

A powerful team is synergistic. When everyone is focused on the big goal and clear about how they can contribute to it, personality conflicts are less likely.

Identifying how someone likes to get feedback will help you recognize the efforts made by each team player. Whether you like their motivations or not, always assume good intent.

As a leader, never announce that you are too busy – you need to communicate and be appreciative often. It will take a lot less time than you think.

Consistently articulating the value of individuals in a manner that they appreciate will help you keep unintentional conflicts at bay.

Conflict Coach Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications. Faith is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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