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Avoiding Board-Staff Conflicts

Avoiding Board-Staff Conflicts

What would you do if one of your association's board members took a problem public? Well, besides cringing, it would be important to consider what breakdown in board-staff communication led to such a departure from standard operating procedure, which would be first, to avoid miscommunication and second, to resolve any issues internally.

A recent online dispute between former Bitcoin Foundation Executive Director Patrick Murck and board member Olivier Janssens put a spotlight on board-staff conflicts and the pitfalls to avoid when they arise. In a recent post to ASAE's Leadership Blog, Associations Now Contributing Editor Mark Athitakis offered his perspective on the situation at Bitcoin.

"By all accounts, the Bitcoin Foundation has serious issues with funding and membership to address," he wrote. "But I'm less interested in that than in the board-staff leadership breakdown that's made this squabbling public, and in what other organizations can do to avoid it."

Like him, I see this as a teachable moment. To that end, Athitakis asked Doug Kleine, CAE, president of Professional Association Services, for suggestions on how organizations can avoid board-staff conflicts.

In sum, he stressed the importance of "solid policies" and "clear orientation on them." Do your board members fully understand what their boundaries are in terms of communicating with staff? Are there policies in place to ensure that staff members communicate with board members appropriately?

Jan Masaoka, editor in chief of Blue Avocado, suggested the following guidelines for clarifying board-staff contact:

• There are no restrictions on board-staff contact, but the executive director must be informed about meetings.
• Board members can request information and reports (such as another copy of the budget or last month's client statistics report), but they must stop short of directing staff work by asking for reports that are not already prepared or otherwise asking staff to perform tasks. New reports and tasks can be requested of the executive director.
• Personnel grievances must go through the channels specified in the personnel policies. Board members should direct staff complaints to those channels.

Taking these steps to clarify roles and expectations should go a long way towards helping associations avoid board-staff conflicts.

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