Conflict management and the unit committee

Anytime two or more people come together, there is potential for conflict. This is true of all organizations, including Scouting units. Everyone is likely to have a different idea of how things are supposed to work, and when personalities clash, decorum can go out the window and we can lose our focus on why we are Scouting volunteers: to help the boys have a successful program.

Conflict can arise between committee members, between Cubmasters and den leaders or between Scoutmasters and assistant Scoutmasters and with the committee, and between volunteers and non-volunteer parents. You can also have conflict within the youth membership, and it is often our job to help the boys recognize this conflict and try to get past it. That’s another topic; we’ll deal with adult relationships in this article. Hopefully, conflict is a rare situation in your unit, but as committee chair you need to be able to recognize it and deal with it in an even-handed manner.

A phrase I like to keep in mind is Be kind, for everyone is fighting a great battle. This means that you never know just what someone else is going through or where they’re coming from. Giving others the benefit of the doubt is usually a good way to approach a conflict situation if you don’t have any prior knowledge of a situation.

The larger the committee you have, the more opportunities there are for conflict to arise. Volunteers often have strong personalities and have strong beliefs in the program they are volunteering in (otherwise they would not have taken the step forward and volunteered). As the number of different adults increases, the number of potential interpersonal interactions increases exponentially, so it’s not unusual to see more conflict on a large committee.

As you become acquainted with committee members and parents, you as the committee chair should also know the temperament of the members of the committee. Are they outgoing and helpful, or do they reluctantly take on responsibility? Are they flexible and willing to compromise, or do they have a tendency to stick to their guns when challenged? It’s important that all involved embrace the mission of the BSA and why we are involved in a Scouting unit, and as committee chair, you’re responsible for instilling that attitude and insisting on it.

When conflict does arise, your job is mediator. You need to remain impartial from a personality and friendship standpoint, and remain fact-oriented. Try to see the value of both sides of an argument and where each party is coming from. The best approach is always to stick with BSA’s policy and, in fact, the twelve points of the Scout law, and try to reach a common ground that resolves the issue. Strive for a win-win situation whenever possible.

Don’t forget why you are a volunteer. It’s because you want the best for your son and our boys. Don’t let conflict get in the way of providing an excellent program, and do right by the boys.

You can help prevent conflict from arising by clearly conveying the mission and the methods of the program, explaining they “why” when necessary, and you can involve the committee members in that mission. When people understand why we do things, the path becomes clearer and everyone works toward success.

Conflict doesn’t just arise between volunteers, however. Parents who don’t get what they expect out of Scouting can get angry as well, and they will often take it out on the unit adult leadership. In the next article in this series, I’ll discuss some ways to deal with parents who are out-of-sorts.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

This post first appeared on Bobwhite Blather.
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2 Replies to “Conflict management and the unit committee”

  1. Yeah, I hear you! I’m one of those pain in the neck confrontational adults (yes I do volunteer as an ASM) who has experienced his son “failing” a scoutmaster conference, given only three months out of six for a position of responsibility through a mathematical formula for calculating POR time which penalizes scouts for being sick and attending mandatory school functions, and now to top it all off his eagle board of review not scheduled for over two months (he is under 17 year old) because “ we have too many things to de-conflict,” has sent me over the edge more than once. When attempting to confront the issue with BSA’s advancement rules and regulations and now the Advancement guide in hand, I have been met with indifference and arrogance. Responses I received have been; “don’t show me the books”, “I read the books,” “everyone does it,” “I don’t have time for this,” and “this is how we do it in this troop.” All this in two different troops! Could my confrontations been dealt with differently? of course I would be more open to “well, let’s see what the advancement guide states,” “how can we improve this? “ “what are your ideas?” or “how can we work this out?”

    1. Charles, you have run into some rather obstinant adults (Andy the Net Commissioner would call them “tin pot dictators”) who want to revise Scouting to fit their own convenience or preconceived notions of how a youth-led program should run. Andy’s advice would be to find another troop that “gets it” and I can’t agree more.

      I’ve seen troops operate that way, and their membership does suffer. It’s only after adults with the right attitude get involved that things turn around. But it is a constant battle to keep it that way, since there are always adults who want to mess with things.

      In your case, you are a pain-in-the-neck in a good way. Keep on fighting “for the boys”.

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