Handling Chronically Unresolved Strategic Issues

When an association fails to resolve chronic and difficult strategic issues, many units, committees and task forces can be left tripping over each other’s business until these issues are resolved. Volunteer and staff leaders have to be vigilant to keep the left and right hand working in harmony.

Unresolved strategic issues can be particularly toxic and wasteful in larger organizations with their complex webs of overlapping interests and activities. Good communication and facilitation can prevent distrust, turf wars, competing solutions, and wasted resources.

First, everyone has to acknowledge and understand they are dealing with a recurring and unresolved strategic issue. Leaders can save countless hours of redundant conversations with each new volunteer or staff team by simply naming and summarizing the issue. While it may be frustrating to work around this uncertainty, once people understand the constraints they can factor them into their problem-solving.

Second, leaders need to be aggressive about clarifying the work scope of different teams. Yes, they may all have an opinion about what should be done, but they may have to accept that some issues are outside their work scope. This will keep them from getting stuck and let them get on to the progress they can make.

Third, leaders must facilitate cross-communication and collaboration so that the work of one group can actually complement the work of another group. If one team has learned something useful to another group, they should pass it along for the good of the entire organization. Projects can be designed and timed to acknowledge and build on the work others are doing. This coordination could contribute to shared understanding and future agreement on what needs to be done.

Finally, boards have got to deal with these unresolved issues. They waste the association’s resources, frustrate people, and make boards look ineffective. These issues are chronically unresolved because they cut to the core conflicts in an association. If the conflicts are too great or the issue is not quite ripe for resolution, the board can at least devise a path and processes to move closer to a decision and provide guidance on what everyone should do in the meantime.

There’s always a lot of resistance to change around chronically unresolved issues. Avoiding the issues or getting stuck on them just adds to that resistance. These strategies for handling them help break down that resistance because they keep people constructively engaged in working on the related changes that will cut the big change down to size.