Handling conflict in 4-H advisory groups

Conflict can lead to growth and positive change. Consider these strategies for addressing conflict in 4-H advisory groups.

Michigan 4-H Youth Development relies on 4-H advisory groups to inform and execute programmatic decisions. 4-H advisory groups, like many other organizations, may occasionally find their groups immersed in conflict. The word conflict often evokes negative emotions. Conflict, however, can result in positive changes or growth in teams and organizations.

In his book “Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” Patrick Lencioni addresses five ways dysfunctional group dynamics can interrupt team goals. This series of Michigan State University Extension articles will address each of the five team dysfunctions and propose ways 4-H advisory groups might overcome them. The previous article, “Trust in Michigan 4-H advisory groups,” addressed the base of the pyramid, the absence of trust. Once a 4-H advisory group has a high level of trust, they can build their tolerance for conflict.

This article addresses Lencioni’s strategies to overcome a 4-H advisory group or organization’s fear or avoidance of conflict.

  • Conflict can result in positive growth when the conflict focuses on issues rather than people. Interpersonal conflicts should generally not be aired at meetings, but be addressed directly with the individuals involved.
  • Groups must be willing to have difficult conversations, embedded in trust, in order to identify and solve problems. Skimming over the same problem year after year because it’s too difficult to solve will only breed animosity. Sometimes it takes an individual willing to recognize the potential for conflict and bring it to the group’s attention.
  • When engaged in difficult conversations, groups must be willing to engage in healthy debate and remember the issues, not people, at the center of the conversation.

In order to foster an environment that is highly respectful, even when dealing with conflict, 4-H advisory groups should consider building and adhering to a set of collectively compiled ground rules that guide expectations for individual behavior. Ground rules provide a framework for expectations for interaction. They simply answer the question, “How would you like to be treated in this meeting?” For more information on ground rules, read “Meeting guidelines and ground rules are basic tools for successful meetings” by MSU Extension.

MSU Extension staff can provide trainings for 4-H advisory groups to effectively deal with conflict in meetings. Visit our 4-H Advisory Group Support website for a variety of 4-H advisory group resources, or contact our team at 4-hleadership@anr.msu.edu

Other articles in series

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