The headline picture suggests that: (1) internal conflict in ICSOs is not a crisis – but is quite significant; and (2) most ICSOs do not respond adequately to conflict; and (3) improving capacity to make conflict productive can make a positive difference in resilience and programme effectiveness.

Our data summary in PDF

What survey respondents said

The responses create the following profile.


1.    The nature of intra-organisational Conflict in ICSOs

More than 60% of respondents find organisational conflict is significant or even very common.

Approximately 75% of respondents find the intensity of organisational conflict to be at least moderate or even severe.

There appears to be a link between the frequency and intensity o conflict that is worth further inquiry.

Common origins for moderate to severe conflict are issues about organisational direction, the distribution and application of authority, and finance.

Inter-cultural sensitivities / misunderstandings rate low as causes, but when in play are often reactions to a dominance of Western ideas or approaches to issues.

Almost 70% of respondents believe that in the next five years the instances of conflict will either increase or remain the same.

2.    The ability of ICSOs to respond to conflict

Approximately 70% of respondents believe that moderate to severe conflict either was not addressed or was not sustainably addressed

The capability to deal effectively with conflict was generally present, but weakest when between national and international boards.

There is a tendency towards resolving the conflict and moving on where upsides may occasionally arise, but are not an aim as such.

3.    The effects of intra-organisational Conflict

Respondents indicated that conflict resulted in low morale, confusion about direction and loss of staff/resources/constituents.

Approximately 75% of respondents believe that finding the upside of conflict was an important critical principle to improve organisation function.

However, responses indicated that slightly less than half of the organisations tended to view conflict in ways that resolution could gain an upside.

Conflicts that tended to result in positive changes were those involving organisational direction, goals and values.

Where benefit was obtained from conflict, they tended to surface systemic problems, clarifying areas of confusion and finding better alignment around shared goals.

4.    What would be needed to find the upside of Conflict

To make the changes needed to find the upside, conflict respondents commonly believed in a need for new perspectives in senior staff and the board as well as significant changes in the organisational culture.

Approximately 80% of the respondents believe that a change to view conflict positively would result in either a modest or even significant improvement.

5.    Use of conflict management systems

The vast majority of respondents indicated that their organisation either did not have a conflict management system that was comprehensive – with only 2% indicating a system was in place – and regularly and effectively used.

More than half of the respondents characterized their organisation’s response to conflict as inconsistent and not coherent.

Where conflict management systems were absent, 60% of the respondents believed such a system should be put in place.

Outside of labour / employment disputes, respondents indicated that their organisation seldom, if ever, used interest-based mechanisms like an ombuds or a structured mediation programme