Non-Profits and Turf Battles – How can such good people be so devious?

Non-Profits and Turf Battles – How can such good people be so devious?

We’ve all seen it. Two very successful and well-meaning non-profits joined in the goal of making their community a better place to live, develop a schism, competing for precious charitable dollars. Perhaps even more detrimental is their development of similar if not identical programs that have no respect for economies of scale. Duplicate summer camps, duplicate fund raisers duplicate personnel resources.

Taken a step further, conflict arises between organizations and individuals over goals and objectives, who is more beneficial, whose donors are whose, and fund-raiser competition for precious time and dollars?

Fast Company had a great article by Robert Herbold on his book outlining the phenomenon called the Fiefdom Syndrome: The Fiefdom Syndrome: The Turf Battles That Undermine Careers and Companies — and How to Overcome Them.*

The problem begins when individuals, groups, or divisions–out of fear–seek to make themselves vital to their organizations and unconsciously or sometimes deliberately try to protect their turf or reshape their environment to gain as much control as possible over what goes on.

Herbold give the example in his experience with Proctor and Gamble when the heads of the sales organizations in the various countries eventually positioned themselves as president of the company in their respective countries. And clearly a president needs his own finance, HR, and IT personnel. Before long, they were developing their own marketing efforts, often out of sync with the overall strategic and marketing direction of Procter & Gamble’s products and services…

Subsidiaries came up with their own ways to analyze their business, methods that tended to emphasize how well they were doing. They institutionalized those new measures and used them to report on their business.

Let’s apply this to the non-profit world. We’ve mediated two cases (successfully) centered on “fiefdom” issues with non-profit agencies. Quite frankly, we’re surprised we haven’t seen more. Why do intelligent agencies build competing fiefdoms? As Herbold’s read pointed out: competition fueled by the need for survival and breakdown in communication lays fertile ground for turf wars.

Non-profits do so very much good in our communities for so many citizens. The price tag to replace these organizations by government services would be absolutely staggering. We need service organizations to keep our community safe, and functioning on an optimum level. Our message is one of hope. The CEOs of two of the organizations we worked with now have coffee every Friday morning. They readily admit that some Fridays they don’t even mention their organizations. But when they do, it tends to be problem sharing usually followed by some brainstorming. Our thought is that even those weeks without business talk, the friendship that has evolved is a more powerful business tool.

If your non-profit is fighting a critical turf battle, it may be productive to build some bridges. Coffee every Friday is a good start!

Robert Herbold. The Fiefdom Syndrome: The Turf Battles That Undermine Careers and Companies — and How to Overcome Them.   (2005)

Happy Presidents Day – Remembering John F Kennedy

In observance of Presidents’ Day – Remembering a perceived irreconcilable conflict.

Jeff Sachs – “Lessons in Peace Making” seems an appropriate tribute to this Presidents Day.

It was the Cuban Missile Crises of 1962. For any of you Boomers out there, you’ll remember you and your family sitting in front of the black and white Motorola for the 6:00 news, listening to Chet Huntley and David Brinkley painting a picture of mounting doom between two superpowers:  the Soviet Union and the United States of America. Escalation of threats and missile escalation seem inevitable when air photography proved soviet arms were strategically placed in Cuba.

The key take away from this great read is that when the majority of decision makers felt that proliferation had reached a point of no return and that peace could not be achieved, President John F Kennedy’s vision was different. According to Sachs, Kennedy understood that tension came from hard liners on each side and that each action of aggression produced an immediate and more severe reaction. Just as interpersonal conflict may easily blossom into an upward spiral. Is there a point where peace becomes impossible?

Not according to Kennedy. Of conflict, Kennedy noted in his famous peace speech that “too many of us think (peace) impossible. Too many think it unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable, that mankind is doomed, that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view”. (Our emphasis).

Kennedy’s claim that both the Soviet Union and the U.S. had a mutually deep interest in a just and genuine peace and in halting the arms race. This very precious and powerful revelation earned quite an outstanding response from Nikita Khrushchev when he reported to the US envoy that the speech was the finest by any American president since FDR.

Negotiations followed and the result was the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty which was followed five years later by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

We like to use this illustration when conflicts escalate and agreements seem impossible. And on this Presidents Day celebration, we give thanks to the leadership and vision of John F Kennedy.

Give Peace a Chance

In July 2013, Rotary International, the century old service organization added their peace initiative to the 4 Avenues of Service. What a profound statement. The presiding RI President, Sakuji Tanaka proclaimed “our business is peace”. An extremely powerful objective.

In his statement, Tanaka noted that peace is more than the absence of conflict – it brings freedom, security, and happiness. Going further, he noted that peace is the enemy of persecution and instability. We’ve made a study of Rotary’s efforts and it’s remarkable. Keep in mind there are 1.2 million Rotarians around the world representing 34,000 clubs. Peace efforts are as small and contained as a sponsored elementary peace day and as large as an international sponsor of Peace Fellows (600 to date who are world leaders).

One of the leading questions worldwide is what is the greatest impediment to peace? Is it generational misunderstandings, global politics, wars? According to Jessica Tuchman Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, bad governance tops the list. As noted by Mathews, a government that does not care about its own people feeds anger. Coupled this issue with hunger, disease, and fear fueled by lack of safety and the multi-dimensional components of hatred unfold.

Bravo, Rotary International for adopting this important avenue of service. All Rotarians are encouraged to:

  1. Educate their clubs about Peace Centers and member fellows.
  2. Enlist community partners involved in peace efforts such as the Red Cross or Doctors Without Boarders
  3. And finally – use their social media to share information on peace initiatives. Rotary International’s website is a rich resource for projects around the world.

About Rotary Peace Centers:

Each year, up to 100 Rotary Peace Fellows are chosen to participate in a master’s degree or certificate program at one of our partner universities. Fellows study subjects related to the root causes of conflict and explore innovative solutions that address real-world needs. We have peace centers around the globe at:

  • Chulalongkorn University, Thailand (certificate program)
  • Duke University at Chapel Hill USA
  • ,International Christian University, Japan
  • University of Bedford, England
  • University of Queensland, Australia
  • Uppsala University, Sweden

Attention all Organizations – Train your Managers to be Mediators!

We were recently directed to an article by Lisa Dunbar by New Directions Consulting (Vermont and New York) entitled “Conflict Management – the Manager as Mediator”.  It holds an important message for any organization that emphasizes the benefit of team building.  What we like, is the discussion on the need for our managers to recognize their potential role in conflict resolution.  We’ve dealt with several organization that have experienced inter-departmental conflict that was allow to grow simply because the manager sent all complaints to HR.

How does a department get to this point – where managers know when to step into their role as mediator?  The article points out three areas of potential:

  1. First and probably most typical, is any informal problem solving or group/team discussion where conflict surfaces
  2. Customer interaction where the customer is upset (internal or external)
  3. Staff member to staff member conflict where they are unable to reach resolution themselves

We would like to add one more area:  conflicts involving employee and manager.  At first it would seem counterintuitive.   Mediators, the role held by managers,  by definition must be unbiased.  It seems a stretch to expect this from a manager who has been drawn in to a conflict situation.  However, we see the manager’s role easily moving to one as mediator/facilitator in these types of situations.

Allow us a brief example.  Manager A is dealing with a belligerent employee that has taken the opportunity at reviews to complain about how he/she is being treated in respect to other employees (requested time off, work load, advancement opportunities).  Does the manager have the skills to remain neutral in this situation?  Probably not, but the manager certainly would have the ability to facilitate communication that is open and on track.

By having a structured process in place, managers do have the tools to identify and deal with conflict before they reach the critical stage.  Dunbar’s article identifies the need for a clear process to guide managers.  Elements include:  preparation, examine all points of view, uncover what is really important to employee as well as manager, brainstorm / search for options and finally commitment by both manager and employee to a plan that includes follow-up.

Not all managers have the talents necessary to objectively look at both sides and treat the complaining partner with respect. But, our suggestion is that all managers, regardless of personality or attitude would benefit by structural training.

The important message is that managers need to be given tools through training and staff development to function in a mediator role.  Have a structure in place that includes training and reinforcement.  The stakes for business efficiency are too high to be held ransom to conflict gone unchecked.

Good quick read: