Thursday, May 23, 2013

Don’t Let Your Board Get Bored…

You may work with a formal board as part of the legal requirements of your organization. Alternatively, you may have a leadership team that acts as a board of management. Or…you may have what many of our clients have: an informal “advisory committee” that oversees the general direction of your work. 

All of these kinds of boards should have “psychological ownership” of the work i.e. they should feel involved and sufficiently invested in success to be motivated to bring their discretionary effort. 

And we know that psychological ownership means your board is more likely to “stay, say and support” i.e. stay with you through the tough times as well as the good, say good things about you to others, and support you with their time, money and best efforts.

A couple of signs of a board that is not going to stay, say and support are when they nod off during meetings, (or text, or step out for phone calls), leave early, cancel regular meetings or maybe even don’t show up.

How the management / board meetings are conducted makes a significant difference to how much the board members feel engaged and feel psychological ownership of the work. If you observe one or more of these behaviors creeping into the dynamic of your board interactions, here are a couple of ideas to improve your meetings.

First…make sure you run a good meeting! Agendas, starting and stopping on time, good notes and follow up aren’t “nice to haves”, they’re essential.

Next, if you have these basic items squared away or you had this problem and addressed it - then: 

1.If you have a series of routine or regular items, like approving past decisions, approving the financial records and similar, try bundling them up into one agenda item for group approval. Send out the relevant documents ahead of time.

2.Don’t just have decisions and information sharing. Ensure part of the meeting is discussion and dialog where the chair ensures everyone participates and gets to air their views.

3.Trainers know that breaking a large group into a number of smaller groups gets the conversation going. Have the board split into twosomes or threesomes and report back on their conclusions.

4.You have a board chair don’t you? Someone needs to keep the board on track and ensure the timings and agenda are followed. If you want to participate fully consider using an outside facilitator. This is something we often do for boards and committees…an experienced facilitator knows when to get the group moving and when to allow more time for discussion. Even simple group activities such as brainstorming and after action reviews go better when run by an experienced facilitator.

5.If you don’t have an outside facilitator make sure the board chair is truly focused on running a sharp meeting and getting everyone involved.

6.Consider getting away from it all! Get out of the office where distractions happen.Try a change of scene just to get people thinking a little differently and with a different focus.

7.Offer up some big, meaty issues for discussion and decisions. An organization we know that focused largely on clientele from one ethnic background had to consider whether to stay true to their community roots or offer their services to disadvantaged clients from outside their community who needed their help. Another internal HR department raised the issue of moving entirely to “fee for service” provision of HR to their internal clients. As you can imagine, these topics lit up the board discussions considerably.

8.We see a lot of board and advisory committee meetings where the agenda and board packet really don’t provide the members with a lot of background and reason to attend. Make sure the materials sent ahead of the meeting are compelling! If you want to ensure they read the materials assign a section of the pack to each board member for them to provide a two minute summary for the group.

9.Set a standard time frame for board review and tenure, say every three years. This way you can review where the organization has developed and adjust the board dynamic. 

10.Alignment with the organizational mission. Practical understanding that the strategic plan will have clear line of sight to all individuals in an organization. Some strategic plans are intentionally vague to allow the organization to make decisions. Other plans drill down to make the intentions specific. In this case, just ensure the specific are realistic and achievable.

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