Thursday, September 22, 2011

Conflicts of interest and loyalty

In small organisations it is easy to slip into an informal way of doing things when people who are keen on following procedures are seen as killjoys - ruining the 'party'.  I am all for informality but I am also all for ensuring one's own integrity and that of our organisations.  There may be situations when we have a conflict of interest - but more often than not our trustees do not get any benefit from their involvement.  Although some may get an honorarium and some may have paid roles within the community such as the organist, paid warden or gardener.  However I think that these are fairly straightforward and people would understand the issue.  

It is with conflicts of loyalities that we need to be on our guard.  In small communities there are people who are married, who are related in other ways, who are close friends and perhaps who help us out, by giving us a lift, giving us flowers or a listening ear.  How do we ensure that we make decisions based on what we think is good for everyone rather than just those people we are closest to or to whom we think we owe a debt?  There are not many times when we have contentious decisions to make but these are the times when we show the level of maturity that our organisations are at.

In some way we need to take a level of emotion out of decision-making.  Forget who our friends and family are, forget that we usually vote the same way as person X and take a dispassionate view of the situation.  We cannot be wholly objective but we do need to try.  As trustees (committee members) we are not deciding what is good for us but deciding what is good for everybody.

I have written recently about the volunteering that I'm doing at a local community centre  and the discussions over governance structures.  The chair has told me on several occasions not to upset one particular person who has done a lot of work on this.  I have asked him how I give people my honest opinion that their proposal just will not work, as I have tried many approaches.  If we are talking models of governance it is clear - good practice is clear - and how similar charities work is clear.  This is not personal but professional.  In some situations I have been in, not this one, I have been with people who have chosen to invest emotional capital in a situation - making it very definitely personal rather than professional: a test of personal loyalty.

If we are talking about people's feelings being heavily invested in being right or being in control then what can anyone do?  Our loyalty always has to be to good working practices - we don't need to be unpleasant about it but we do need to be clear.  We are not making a decision because of a loyalty to one person's feelings but to the organisation.  Some people choose the decision which causes least upset - this is not what the law says trustees should do.

So in preparing ourselves for objective decision-making our communities need to understand how good decisions are made and that the focus of any decision is the health of the organisation, in our case our faith community, and not the feelings of any one individual.  We need to ensure that the decision-making process is understood and agreed with everyone beforehand.  In psychological terms we are making rational, adult decisions. After a decision is made, if there are people feeling upset, then we need to be compassionate whilst remaining 100% committed to the decision.

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