Extraordinary governance requires a strong partnership between board and staff: Part 2

A good working relationship between board and administration is key to fulfilling the organization’s mission.

Once again, just as we saw in our discussion of resources, trust in the board-CEO relationship is critically important. Both must work to build that trusting partnership, and to maintain that solid level of trust once it is established.

In the first part of this series about the board-staff partnership, we talked about several aspects of defining a clear role for each. We move now to discussion of the role of the chair, and some special considerations for county government.

Often an organization will have the chair serve as the communication conduit to the CEO. However, what is most important is that each organization develops their own method that is workable, and clearly understood and supported by all. This is true of many of the facets of this working relationship. Board members and CEOs must develop a plan that works to accomplish the mission, and is clearly “owned” by all involved. Including all in the process of creating that plan for how to work together is important to having the necessary “buy-in” to reduce the chances of some deciding the plan doesn’t work for them and subsequently going around the agreed-upon method of operation.

This shared understanding and ownership of the method of communication is equally important for the appraisal process and selection process as well.

Counties in Michigan have a unique structure that bears mention in the context of this discussion of the board-CEO relationship. Counties have elected officials, department heads who are directly answerable to the people for how they run their office and the impact they have. They do answer to the board for their use of finances. Consequently, they do not answer to the CEO, usually called a county administrator, controller or coordinator. The elected officials and the county commission are co-employers of the staff in the departments of the elected officials. For members of the board of commissioners, navigating this structure can be complex. Again, a clear understanding of the responsibilities of both the elected officials and the commission is critical, as is a clearly understood, shared plan for developing and accomplishing the county’s goals. Excellent communication and a commitment to working together effectively are essential in county government.

Building trust and achieving success in the relationship between board members and staff requires mutual respect between all involved. Michigan State University Extension educators can provide programs with practical learning, and facilitate conversations to help your organization develop stronger working relationships.

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