Let’s Not Fight in Front of the Kids


Let’s imagine you’ve just signed up as a volunteer with a small local charity. Soon enough you attend a general meeting. You are introduced to some of the board members, and something feels off. The meeting drags on while the board - your bosses - squabble over minutiae, discuss irrelevant issues, and maybe a member or two is absent. You return to your normal volunteer work with a lack of motivation, and you start looking for a new organisation that has some vision and direction.

This hypothetical can turn all too real when boards and committees let things like ego and inter-personal conflicts interrupt how they direct their organisations. Volunteers are perceptive - they signed up to work for you looking to make a difference and be valued. If you can’t give them a concrete leadership foundation from which to work, you’re going to lose them. Fast.

When a committee doesn’t work

There are so many small things that can contribute to your committee or board becoming dysfunctional. Some of the key aspects to look at are:

 1.         Lack of focus - your meetings go on tangents and members get distracted.

2.         Lack of research, planning, and purpose - nobody knows what needs to happen in the short or long term for the organisation to function.

3.         Poor involvement by members - board members don’t show up or don’t complete tasks.

**4.         Poor interaction between members** - the committee bickers, gossips, or fight amongst themselves.

If you are sitting on a board and notice these problems regularly, it can be difficult to identify solutions. Sadly, there’s no one-size-fits-all fix to these problems, but there are some steps you can take that’ll help you get there.

Step Back

Get yourself into an outsider mindset. For the moment, try and let go of any personal feelings and identify what internal problems are impacting your organisation. If Deborah the Treasurer has always come across as rude to you or other members, write it down. If James the Events Coordinator hasn’t shown up for the last three meetings, write it down. If you and Grace the Volunteer Manager always get distracted talking about the recent football match, write it down. Identification leads to actionable solutions.


Keeping that mindset from earlier, start to talk with your committee about the problems you’ve identified. Keep things civil and respectful. You’re speaking with human beings, who have wants and needs in regard to their work. What can you do that would make James want to come to meetings? If the outcome of the discussion is that James doesn’t like his position and wants to move on, that’s ok - it’s in the open now, and you can help James move to where he is happy and effective.


Now that you’ve identified and discussed the issues that led to your board under-performing, you need to act on your findings. Sometimes a problem can be solved just by having the discussion in the previous step. Other times, more intensive changes need to be made. Work with your team to put these changes into motion. Maybe you’ll miss chatting about the big game with Grace, but in the eyes of your members and volunteers, you’ll be a leader who gets things done.