Conflict Management for Non-Profits and Turf Battles

How can such good people be so devious?

Poor conflict management is all too common in today’s society, and even seen in what we believe to be the most ethical of industries: non-profits. 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)

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