How effective trustees can manage conflict

How effective trustees can manage conflict

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Welcome to month 11 of our publication, Using Conflict as a Catalyst for Change – A Guide for Embracing, Managing and Mitigating Conflict Within Your Charity. This month we focus on how effective trustees and others within the charity can manage conflict and what to do when conflict arises.

We explore the topic with John Adams OBE. John has been a charity chief executive and was a long-serving executive director of one of the UK’s largest charities.

Let’s face it, not many of us are good at handling conflict. However, is conflict always a bad thing in the context of charity governance, or can it assist boards in making good decisions that further their charitable objectives and act as a catalyst for positive change? The answer, of course, depends on a number of factors, not least being the root cause of the conflict, how long it lasts and what form it takes.

An effective trustee recognises that conflict within their charity can be a good thing as it can highlight where issues lie within the organisation. Avoiding conflict can be a bad thing as this could lead to increasing tensions, making the conflict much worse.

The challenge is to recognise the difference between constructive challenge and damaging conflict and to act accordingly.

The role of the board

Effective governance includes successfully managing conflict. A mature board understands that in managing conflict and complaints, the ‘buck stops with them’. It’s therefore important they are monitoring complaints and conflicts and have an appropriate ‘line of sight’ from the boardroom to front-line services. 

Being an effective trustee

Being an effective trustee is not easy. In order to be effective, trustees need to engage with their stakeholders and be prepared to constructively challenge management. In short, effective trustees need to create some respectful conflict of their own.

Research from Birmingham University and Nuffield Trust highlights the value of a ‘restless board’. This may include:

  • comparing itself with others
  • regularly reviewing front-line services
  • encouraging routine meetings with stakeholders
  • engaging with the life of the charity beyond the boardroom

I therefore encourage effective trustees to:

  • be curious
  • welcome dialogue
  • be vigilant when conflicts and complaints arise 

To find out more about how effective trustees can manage and use conflict with third parties to their advantage, read the full publication now: Using Conflict as a Catalyst for Change.

Need help?

If you have any questions or if you’d like to discuss this with us in more detail, please speak to your usual MHA Larking Gowen contact. Call 0330 024 0888 or email





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