members sitting in circleOne of the most exciting parts about running a student organization is gathering a group of students with varying backgrounds and interests to work towards a common goal.  With many different viewpoints in the mix you will certainly run into disagreements.  This is perfectly normal - every group goes through a variety of developmental phases as they make their way through the year.


Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development

Sometimes conflict can be a necessary and inevitable part of a student organization in order to grow and deliver better results.  Groups, as well as individual members, can move through these phases at entirely different paces and your goal as a student leader should be to facilitate conversations and activities to help move forward.  An organization can go through these five stages many times in the course of the year - often triggered by new changes and challenges that are introduced to your operations.  Sometimes change and growth can take time and there is nothing you can do to “solve” a situation - you must simply let it play out and guide the future direction from there.

In this stage your organization members will meet, get to know eachother, and decide upon a direction for the semester or year.  You can expect a certain level of boundary testing and defining what is "normal" for your organization.  This is a good time to provide icebreaker and teambuilder activities to held your members grow comfortable with eachother.  Once they are comfortable, it is more likely that they will feel confident enough to come forward with any concerns or complaints - moving into the next stage.

The more comfortable your members become with eachother, the more likely they are to learn about leadership structures, working styles and general demeanor of their peers.  This can either be good or bad - sometimes organizations will accept these modes of working and move directly into stage three.  On the other hand, an organization may deal with a certain period of conflict and need to emphasize tolerance and acceptance of the different viewpoints that members bring to the organization.

Once your members become more aware of their different strengths and quirks that they each bring to the table, your organization can start to create a new "normal" for how you operate.  As a leader, pay attention to make sure that members aren't just "playing nice" and truly feel comfortable bringing up group conflicts as appropriate.

In this stage an organization, and its members, understand the shared goal and tasks and are making tangible progress towards success.  You may still have conflicts, but everyone understands how to bring them up using the agreed upon methods.

This stage can occur throughout the year as you complete smaller tasks or perhaps at the end of a semester or academic year as you all part ways.  Remember to provide space to reflect on your time together, set new goals to revisit, and ensure that proper documents/training are passed along to future leadership.


Managing Conflict

1) Group Discussionmembers in circle, talking

No-one knows your organizations and members better than yourself - try to have a conversation to resolve issues on your own.  Remember these key pointers to create a neutral and calm environment to work through concerns:

  1. Assure equal representation for all sides of an issue.  Nothing feels worse than walking into a meeting when it's nine members versus one.
  2. Give everyone space to talk and express their understanding of the situation. Invite an uninvolved person to help mediate the conversation, if needed.
  3. Co-create a solution.  It's okay to brainstorm possible solutions before the meeting, but remain open to what others will bring to the table.
  4. Focus on behavior or root causes, not the person.  If someone has taken steps to be a member of your organization they most likely want it to succeed.

2) Conflict Resolution

Have you tried to resolve a group conflict and it didn’t work?  Is the situation you’re dealing with a bit more complicated?  Utilize the free services provided by the Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution office on campus.  They can provide a mediated conversation, group workshops, and a variety of other services to make resolving your conflict easier.

3) CSI Liaisons

Need someone to bounce a “what if” scenario off of?  Looking for a quick suggestion on how to approach a situation?  Contact your CSI Liaison via email or set up a meeting with them.