Saturday, January 30, 2016

Building Great Relationships on your Board of Directors

Building Great Relationships on your Board of Directors – What you can do to have effective relationship and manage conflict when serving on a Board of Directors (BOG)

Background of Conflict Resolution and Board of Directors/Boards of Governors

Are you a director or executive member of a non-profit organization or corporation? Do you have a conflict on your Board of Directors? 

As a facilitator and conflict resolution expert, I focus my work on volunteer Boards of Directors. I wrote this blog for anyone interested or involved in serving on an agency board.  Conflict is an important part of growing a strong board, listening to different perspectives from the community and helping an organization have a positive impact on the community (read conflict is good for business). Planning ahead to understand what conflict could look like, having an agreed upon process for resolution and learning how to use the process is a valuable skill to develop as a board member.  When you master conflict resolution and integrate it into your work, you improve the chances that your agency will achieve its overall goals.

Introduction to Conflict Resolution and Board of Directors

Serving on a Board of Directors for a not-for-profit agency is an excellent opportunity make a contribution to the community.  You can shape the future of the organization by making a contribution of your time, expertise and knowledge.  The ability to identify and resolve conflict is a necessary skill. There are different types of disputes you can experience on a Board.  Some can be resolved quickly and others will require a process for resolution.  This post will outline four things you can do to establish a framework to make conflict resolution work for your Board of Directors.

1.     Establish a Dispute Resolution Policy

     The Board Dispute Resolution Policy should outline the process for identifying, addressing and resolving a dispute that involves board members or their single employee (e.g., CEO, Executive Director).  The policy should state that dispute resolution is an important tool for the Board to use when there are significant issues that appear to be difficult to resolve.

The document should include the following elements:

b.     The process for the resolution of the conflict

c.     The phase in the resolution process (e.g. negotiation, mediation)

d.     Who should be involved from the board to assist with the process

e.     If outside assistance is required, who will be involved

f.      A method to record lessons learned

g.     A date for the annual review of the policy

h.    The dispute management process. 

Building a policy should be based on the literature and well-known tools for effective negotiation and dispute resolution. See the Meditate2Go blog on creating an organizational dispute resolution program and policy.

2.     Board Orientation and Continuing Education

     Training and education should support the policy.  The annual Board Meeting schedule should incorporate training. Everyone should have an opportunity refine and develop their skills to identify conflict, apply the conflict resolution tools and obtain feedback. The learning process can utilize a wide variety of methods including case studies, role plays or guest speakers.  Actively engaging the board members in the learning process is the key to success.

3.     Apply the Tools for Emerging Challenges and Opportunities

     Every organization faces a wide variety of challenges and opportunities.  The challenges can consist of conflicts between board members, with staff or with other agencies in the community [1]. The opportunities will often present themselves as a chance to expand existing services, create new services or build new facilitates.  Negotiation and conflict resolution tools can be helpful to build partnerships and find solutions to challenges or opportunities. Applying the tools as a Board is a positive way to strengthen relationships in the community and find new and innovative ways to work with other organizations.  See the Meditate2Go blog on Interest-Based Approach to help your Board work with other agencies in the community.

4.     Engage the Local Mediation Community

     Every community has a rich resource of people trained and willing to assign an organization with dispute resolution training, mediation, and effective conflict coaching.  Learn about the mediators in your community.  A strategic partnership local mediators can help the organization develop healthy relationships in the community, provide a framework for exploring new ideas among groups and assist the Board in moving forward with challenges and opportunities.

The Board of Directors is a critical element in the long-term success of community agency.  Building excellent relationships between board members will involve having a framework for identifying and resolution disputes.  Establishing a Board policy, engaging in ongoing training, using the dispute resolution tools and partnering with mediation experts in the community can make your time on Board a constructive and positive experience.  Good luck as you play a critical role in the community as a member of the Board of Directors.

Contact the Mediate2go Blogger:

Jerry Mings is a facilitator and mediator with enormous experience in the health and social sector. His work is focused on Boards and Senior Teams as they work in the areas of organizational priorities, dispute resolution strategies and effective community partnership opportunities. With over 18 years of practice, his work has involved national health  charities,  government funded organizations and private sector service firms. In addition, Jerry designs public participation systems and asynchronous facilitation methods using the Internet.

[1] Marion peters Angelica, “Resolving Board Conflicts” (1999) The Grantsmanship Center. 

The Tipping Point of Mediation, Conflict Coaching and Resolution

Reflection of The Tipping Point by a Mediator
- How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

The Tipping Point, By Malcolm Gladwell

Blog by Wayne Marriott

“The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behaviour crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate. This widely acclaimed bestseller, in which Malcolm Gladwell explores and brilliantly illuminates the tipping point phenomenon, is already changing the way people throughout the world think about selling products and disseminating ideas.”

Having read the book some years hence, I sought out the audio version of this valuable gem. This following information is my review of the book for your enjoyment. I hope it whets your appetite sufficiently to seek your own copy and enjoy Gladwell’s writing as much as I have.
You can find the iTunes version of the book here.

So, why should conflict management practitioners take on Gladwell’s glad-tidings?

I’m a conflict resolution service provider. My unique skill and ability is for sale. Regrettably the craft of practitioners like me is undervalued by a market sector that believe when they get into conflict, the dispute belongs to the other party and seldom accept much personal responsibility in the cause nor the resolution of their dispute. “I’m not in dispute. I’m right and they are wrong”. I find most of my clientele have become so immersed in their dispute they can no longer see a way through. In their exhaustion, they simply transfer responsibility of resolution to a lawyer or worse still, rollover allowing the other party to exert more power than should normally be afforded to them.  All of this can lead to destructive conflict escalation.

I’ve been searching for an edge toward success in my conflict management practice. Something that I could use as a guide in the market place frequented by fickle and grumpy consumers who don’t yet know what they need, nor want. How can I help people overcome this conflict blindness? What marketing ideas will create a change in the way consumers deal with dispute? I see this book as a tool to reflect and find a solution to improve my conflict resolution practice.

Biography of an idea – 4 principles

The Tipping Point described by Gladwell is the biography of an idea. For the communication of an idea (the message) to create change: the messenger must be a connector; the message must be in context and the message needs to stick, that is, personal, memorable, and practical. Simplistic, the change must be the easiest option.
As conflict resolution practitioners, we can harness Gladwell’s vision to help guide a personal business approach to transform our practice and strengthen our industry with strategies designed to build capability across our client sector, communities, organization, etc.

Important ideas that provoke change demonstrate 4 principles:
1.    Associated with contagious behaviour
2.   Little change = big effect
3.   Significant change will occur in one dramatic moment
4.   Principle 4 -  making sense of 1 and 2 above in these four parts:
                                              i.     Demonstrates geometric progression like that of a viral epidemic
                                            ii.     The unexpected must be expected – where radical change is more than a possibility
                                          iii.     There are three agents of change.
                                          iv.     Word of mouth epidemics become extraordinary news.

Agents of change

The three agents of change are essential elements of ideas that provoke social change are:
1.    The law of the few – key people who demonstrate: exceptional skills; energy; sociable nature and knowledge. Gladwell calls them:
a.    Connectors
b.    Mavens
c.    Salesmen (although I prefer to describe these folk as persuaders)
2.   The stickiness factor – ideas that make an impact (change behaviour) and stay top of mind (popular across the culture)
3.   The power of context – where the tipping point is reached owing to tinkering with even the smallest detail.

The law of the few – who are they and what do they offer?

The success of any social epidemic is heavily dependent on people with a particular set of skills. Change will occur more readily when these three specialist come together. Gladwell makes clear that these few do not exist in every team, community or organization. With this in mind we must remember that teams, communities and organizations must ensure these exceptional skills are present. For sole practitioners who beat a solitary drum and attempt to develop the entire skill set, an important lesson is to collaborate with key people to ensure the tipping point is reached and change assured.
Gladwell defines Connector; Mavens and Persuaders as follows:
a.    Connectors AKA people specialists.
These folk have great contacts. They prove, it’s not what you know but who you know. They give the rest of us access to opportunities and worlds that we ordinarily don’t belong. Effective people specialists rank highly in a six degrees of separation where not all the degrees are equal. Gladwell describes the circle of friends is actually a pyramid where key individuals simply know lots of people of all different ilk and move between cultures with ease. He says that weak ties can net more worth than strong ties. This means that our acquaintances are stronger allies than our friends and relatives. (Gladwell discusses his six degrees theory  and Kevin Bacon here )
b.    Mavens AKA information specialists.
These folk are accumulators of knowledge. We rely on mavens as information brokers. They are the experts in their field and we pay them tremendous respect as our go-to people on specifics topics. Gladwell says that mavens’ are socially motivated and seldom demonstrate strength in persuasion.
c.    Persuaders AKA communication specialists.
Tuned in to cultural micro-rhythms, persuaders demonstrate mastery of a specialized human trait where listening and intervention is as synchronous as a conductor of an orchestra. With perfect timing, they listen, interrupt and become interactional as if in tune with most everyone they meet.

When Mavens and Connectors amongst us get together.

Importantly, mavens demonstrate success when they collaborate with connectors who are innovators. Connector-innovators are trend setters. They often feel they are isolated – even outcasts. They are also pioneers who see a bigger picture. They are passionate and readily become engaged in various forms of activism.

When mavens and connector-innovators get together a more coherent picture comes clear. The fresh broadened view ensures a more complete analysis is not influenced by those with an insular and biased outlook.

Maybe this is why conflict management innovators (or any professional group or social enterprise) are more often engaged in change processes across their sector. They create change by incremental steps that might otherwise not seem connected. The resulting tipping point comes with radical and rapid change to the surprise of those around them whilst the pioneers go unrecognized.

If this is you, (pat on back) then you will already be broadening the scope of your craft to provide consumers with flexibility, strengthening the action of your profession and changing culture. You will be making change the easy choice, as Gladwell suggests, redefining innovation as mainstream. See the Mediate2Go blog on enhancing customer service in conflict resolution.

Afterword by Malcolm Gladwell.

“A book is a living and breathing document that grows richer with each new reading”. Malcolm Gladwell.
An added strength of the audio version is Gladwell’s personal afterword where he shares fresh insight into his vision. He says that:
         i.         Difficult and challenging change is best tackled by a close knit group.
       ii.         An increasing significance of the social media culture means we must rely more on the power of word-of –mouth of our mavens, connectors and persuaders.

He also says that since writing The Tipping Point he can add fresh insight.
1.    Understanding the rise of isolation.
2.   Beware the rise of immunity.
3.   Finding the mavens.

1.    Understanding the rise of isolation.
Individuals these days seem to follow an internal cultural script where they are infected by the example of how others experience and react to conflict and dispute. The resulting contagious behaviour in the population requires a counter response toward the tipping point to conflict competence.  Only then will we overcome our underlying anxieties that fuel unhealthy hysterical social behaviour.

2.    Beware the rise of immunity.
The power of word-of-mouth becomes more valuable as the message epidemic is prolonged. This is counter-intuitive to normal economics where scarcity drives an increase in value and wealth.  Gladwell opines that increasing network size is self-limiting as we become immune to the share volume of messages directed at us about more things we have little interest in. The key to reducing immunity is to reach people face-to-face.  This relies on us valuing those in our teams, communities and organizations we respect  admire and trust. The cure for immunity is engaging with our mavens, connectors and persuaders.

3.    Finding the mavens.

Gladwell calls it, “creating the maven trap”.

People look up to mavens, connectors and persuaders (The law of the few) because they naturally value respect and standing amongst friends and colleagues. They are less impressed with status and wealth. In particular the mavens we value are able to break through the rising tide of isolation and immunity because:
  •    Mavens prefer direct communication, face-to-face.
  •    Word-of-mouth messages will be carefully constructed to attract the maven group in each sector, community and organization.

Gladwell suggests that finding and collaborating with a widened maven group will hasten the process toward the tipping point of change.
What ideas and great works are you considering? Can you identify the mavens are around you? When will you formalize a strategy to bring together your connectors, mavens and persuaders?

How to use Gladwell’s book to improve conflict resolution for both clients and mediators.

My mission from now is to consider my colleagues in terms of Gladwell’s classification.
1.    Write a list of colleagues you admire and respect and consider if they are mavens, connectors or persuaders. (Many of these folk will have strengths in each)
2.   Make a plan on making contact with each individual and set about securing a face to face meeting with them.
3.   Use the meeting to gather information about their values. Talk with them about what you are working on and introduce the Gladwell readings.
4.   Ask questions such as:
1.    What values do mediators share? (This is your maven trap – mavens will wax lyrical on their view of this.)
2.   What stifles referrals and business development? (see best business ideas for mediators)
3.   Without undermining the competitive nature of our practice, how can we work together to grow the size of the referrals pie?
4.   Would you be willing to join a think tank / working party to discuss 1, 2 and 3 above?
5.   Then plan and implement your think tank meeting with your mavens, connectors and persuaders. Have them consider:
6.   What would it be like to work together?
7.   Which environments are in most need of transformation?
8.   What challenges will we face?
9.   How will we overcome the challenges?
10. How will we know we are making a difference?
11.What commitments do we need to make together to take another step? (Who, what, how, when, why)
Whilst our mediation colleagues are for in intents and purposes competitors for a fairly limited pie of referrals, by embracing Gladwell’s concepts we can work together to grow the size of the pie. By working together our client base can encompass a broadened foundation of communities, sectors and organizations that will benefit from embracing their own mavens, connectors and persuaders. They simply need our guidance to show them.

Connect with Wayne Marriott, Mediator

For more information, please read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point.


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