First, a word on the importance on making the effort to create a productive culture. We notice that many boards pride themselves on their efficiency, stating "Our board meetings are down to one hour each quarter!" While interminable, unstructured, or rambling board discussions are not desirable or effective, boards do not develop their problem solving "muscles" unless they regularly exercise these faculties.
What many think of as the "soft stuff" (e.g. opportunities to meet socially, articulating shared values and accepted behaviors, etc.) is actually critical to creating a base upon which members can build effective working relationships. Such relationships allow boards to navigate the more difficult and challenging issues. Some examples of the necessary steps to creating a strong, cohesive board include:
A. Make time to talk together as a board about the culture that you want to maintain or create on the board and what is/will be required so can work together productively. Click here for some of the ways that boards create a culture that can tolerate differences of opinion.
B. Encourage vigorous discussion, even debate, at the board level about important decisions facing the organization. The board chair and executive director are key to the success of this practice. How they react to differences of opinion at meetings sends a strong message to board members about whether or not dissent is tolerated at the organization. Click here for more.
C. Give board members the information they need, in a timely manner, to fully understand the issues and choices they are addressing. One of the best ways to provoke conflict is to ask board members to make an important decision with no information, or based on a lengthy report that they receive at the board meeting.Click here for more.
D. Agree on communication protocols, both within the board and outside of the board when difficult issues are being decided. It is almost always destructive when board members take the debate that is taking place in the boardroom out into the community.
- Even before such issues arise, it is important to talk as a board about why some discussions or issues will be kept confidential, and agree on who will be the spokesperson for the organization.
- When such matters do come up, the board needs to agree on what to say, what not to say, and to whom.
E. Hold each other accountable for agreements made as a group. Many boards believe that accountability is the role of the board chair. While s/he is certainly plays a key role in this area, it should be made explicit that accountability is shared by all board members.
Anyone may move a discussion along, encourage others to speak, summarize discussions, question or test the a solution, make sure everyone is ready for a vote, or reign in a member who is not abiding by the rules for discussion.
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