I wrote this in response to a query about a board that was not fulfilling its mission — at least according to the groups Executive Director.  After reading a detailed analysis of ways in which the board appeared to be failing, I added these thoughts . . .

I believe the solution must involve both left and right brain thinking — both an analysis of what’s being missed, and some candid sharing about the context of board work in support of the organization’s mission.

I can imagine leading a workshop in which board members list

  • Expectations about their roles
  • Personal evaluation about their performance in each role
  • What energizes each board member to do this work
  • What de-energizes each board member, or puts limits on the energy they can expend
  • What makes board meetings fun, exciting, vital, and worth attending
  • What makes board meetings dull, frustrating, obligations that one might rather skip.

Then have the Executive Director (and perhaps other members of the executive team) list his or her expectations of the board, which of these are met and to what extent, and which are left unfulfilled in a way that really hurts the organization, or at least the work of the Executive Director.

I expect that mixing structural and personal will help everybody find more trust and develop a more collaborative spirit, and that this sharing process will expose some of the real issues.

One final note — Don’t assume that the problem lies totally with the board. It may be that unclear expectations or communications, confused agenda, vague decision making processes, or other such external problems are part of what holds the board back. For this reason, it’s extremely helpful to have the session facilitated by somebody from outside — somebody who is not identifed with any part of the organization or its governance.