Extraordinary governance: The board as a body-Part One

Boards that functions as one, with a shared plan for revitalization, improving their skills, and working through differences, are the most successful.

So what does it mean when we talk about a government or nonprofit board acting as a body? Perhaps the most obvious definition has to do with the board resolving their differences on policy issues, making decisions and working together to implement those policies. There is more to it than that, however, as we will see in these articles, which are part of a series of Michigan State University Extension articles about the Components of Extraordinary Governance

As I mentioned in a previous article in this series, my pastor illustrated the concept well a few years ago when introducing the new board of elders. After introducing each of them individually, he then said, “They are my boss.” I nearly stood and applauded. He had said, they, plural, are my boss, singular. That is the way an extraordinary board operates. They share their ideas and opinions, discuss the facts of an issue, debate possible courses of action, and then make a decision. They implement that decision as one. One board, with one plan of action, working together to achieve the mission driven impacts they and their organization, whether government or nonprofit, seek to achieve.

But that kind of singularity doesn’t happen just because members of a board will it to happen. It takes work, it requires having a plan for governing that intends to move the board in that direction, and it takes trust.

Trust is another one of those characteristics of extraordinary boards that doesn’t happen just because we want it to. The actions of people work to either build trust or to erode it. It requires communication, follow-through, transparency, straight talk, and a continual effort to work for the good of the organization and the good of the board that steers the organization. 

Stephen M.R. Covey has written an excellent book on the issue of trust, called “The Speed of Trust”. In the book, he not only makes the case that we can improve levels of trust by working on improving our own trust building behaviors, he also gives examples of the value of trust in improving the speed at which we can get things done, whether in business, government or the nonprofit world. 

There are also many other elements of this extraordinary governance component we call the “board as a body”. Boards need a plan for making sure they do those things, and do them well, a governance framework. Part two of this article looks at the elements of that plan in more detail.

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