Almost everyone who has served on a nonprofit Board of Directors is aware of the “role of the board”. Fiduciary responsibilities are well documented and inevitably take up the bulk of time in Board Meetings. Strategic plans often get raised in cycles of three years. A plan that was so well thought through suddenly needs a refresh. Even the best of Boards who deliberately adjust their agendas to ensure that strategic goals are included, often find themselves receiving updates of past activities, leaving for a plethora of information that easily creeps into one ear and out the other side at record speed.
What are the alternatives? What are Boards and their Leadership teams doing to change the level of engagement? How do you ignite the bounty of expertise in the room to get ideas that can fundamentally transform an organization? It could be resolved by planning for regular generative discussions. Some of the most engaging meetings come from discussions that are derailed from what is on the agenda. It’s in this space where thought-provoking questions are asked, the advice is sought, and the future direction is imagined without boundaries. It’s the moment when Board members and CEOs walk out of the meeting feeling inspired, engaged and enthusiastic about their work and the role they play in the organization.
How can Boards deliberately make time for these discussions? Start with building a consent agenda to allow for the approval of monthly items, requiring no discussion. Place a projected time next to agenda items to ensure that items are not over discussed. Provide agenda items and meeting documents well in advance to allow for appropriate review. This will give plenty of time for deeper dialogue. CEOs and Executive Directors need to provide information to the Board, even some potential options, but allow the organic discussion to happen without a preconceived outcome or a rubberstamped plan. Board members are asked to sit on a Board because of their skill set, experience and interest in the organization.
In many cases CEOs spend most time speaking to them about past events, updating them about the finances and talking about actions against the strategic direction. There is a feeling that they alone must have all the answers, the plan and financial implications wrapped up in a perfectly developed presentation that requires very little discussion by the Board members. Consider bringing in small discussions to build trust among Board Members and the Leadership Team. Present a small problem, a few options and let the conversation unfold. You may be surprised at the end of the discussion that the wisdom and experience of everyone further enhances a plan. The enthusiasm of the Board will be elevated and perhaps attendance at meetings may even increase. In the end, what have you got to lose besides a little time?