September 18, 2013
On September 13, the New York Society of Association Executives held a special interest group discussion for Executive Women’s nonprofit CEOs and Executive Directors to talk about dysfunction in the board room. Many of us have experienced what can happen when a Board of Directors just isn’t working well together. As paid leaders that support the Board’s activities, there are some things we can do to help facilitate. Here are some tips to avoid dysfunction in the board room:
At the start of each new year:
- Choose Your Directors Wisely – When you are working with the nominations committee to determine who will serve on the Board next year, consider how each of the members of the Board will work together. A dynamic Board has individuals with various strengths, personalities and backgrounds, and you should incorporate all of their skills and temperaments.
- Set Clear Expectations – As you help the nominations committee to build your Board, make sure each candidate understands what is expected of them and that they’ve signed on for the end game. If a Board member doesn’t think joining will be a big time commitment, they may be surprised when they’re assigned projects. That could lead to them disappearing halfway through the year.
- Offer Comprehensive Orientations – Orientation is so important to making sure a Board works in sync. For my client New York Women in Communications (NYWICI), the Board takes these orientation sessions very seriously. Each new Board member sits down with me for an hour to review their role and expectations and I can answer any questions they may have. They are each given an orientation binder that contains background information including: FAQs about the organization, minutes from past year, Financials for the last year and the organization’s Strategic Plan.
- Strive for Seamless Transitions – For NYWICI, the new Board members are invited to attend the last Board meeting of the outgoing Board so they can see how a meeting is run. The incoming and outgoing Board also spend a day together creating goals and setting an agenda for the next year. The outgoing chairs prepare a short presentation with accomplishments, learnings and suggestions. This “hand-off” meeting allows everyone some time to sit back and think about what we can be doing more strategically.
- Think Ahead about Succession Planning – Most of the NYWICI Board members co-chair committees. Each Board member has a two year term. We have built in a staggered term so that there should always be someone who is the veteran of the pairing and understands the policies of the Board. The veteran can help teach the “rookie” co-chair for a year, which definitely helps with the yearly transition.
Before each meeting:
- Prepare Your Board – Before each meeting, think about what is going to be discussed at the Board meeting and the various sides of the issues. Make sure your Board members are adequately prepared to make sound judgments. Is there anything they need to read up on before the meeting? Include it in their Board packet.
- Keep the Discussion High-Level – As you work with your President to develop an agenda for a meeting, only bring up items that the whole Board needs to know. If an issue can be delegated to a committee meeting, then don’t waste the Board’s time with too many details.
- Allow Time for Some Fun – Individuals join boards to meet like-minded peers and colleagues. They’re volunteering their time, so their Board involvement shouldn’t always feel like work. Make sure there is ample time for networking so that there is a collegiality allowing the next sticky issue to be addressed without too much drama. A kickoff or end-of-year social for the Board might help them to get to know each other, too.
What are your tips to ensuring a Board works well together?