Companies have a number of internal and external conflict-resolution resources at their disposal. In addition, they should consider creating the new role of board ombudsman to mediate disagreements.
Conflict is inevitable in any large organization, and these conflicts, particularly in the board of directors, can often be costly to a firm both in terms of real dollars and in lost organizational focus. However, drawing on best practices in conflict management, the author suggests that organizations can take a comprehensive approach to quickly settle conflict inside the board, making use of four resources available to any organization. The first is the board itself. Directors and boards should take the lead in addressing their own problems and disagreements using the most constructive approaches possible. Boards also need to establish a set of internal and external resources. Internally, they can rely on resources such as general counsel, the chief ethics officer, and the organizational ombudsman. Externally, organizations can rely on mediation and arbitration as well as investigative counsel. In cases of last resort, the board can rely on public resources such as the courts and government agencies. However, this approach may not be enough. The authors suggest a new role: the board ombudsman, for a highly competent, independent and confidential resource who can help directors and boards to solve problems through effective, informal methods, such as assisted negotiation or shuttle diplomacy.