Extraordinary governance: The board as a body-Part Two

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

There are also many other elements of this Component of Extraordinary Governance 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. In part one of this article series by Michigan State University Extension we talked about the overall concept and the importance of building trust. 

The board needs a commitment to follow through on the plan once it is written. It needs to begin with an honest self-analysis of where the board is currently, and where the organization is in terms of its overall functioning. The board has to ask itself whether the organization is accomplishing its mission, and to what extent the activity of the board is helping it achieve those goals, and in what ways the activity of the board is holding the organization back. 

The board needs to determine what roles must be accomplished and develop a clear understanding of who is fulfilling each role. The board must look at the processes it uses to develop meeting agendas to insure adequate time for the big picture discussions.

Team activity is a function of nearly everything we do today. The board needs to have a plan to insure that its policies encourage the building of strong, effective teams, including itself. Learning about governance, and the organization, and the world in which the organization operates must be planned by the board. Acquiring the necessary knowledge to keep a 21st century organization moving forward requires an active effort. Learning by osmosis is no longer an option.

Board member selection and training are often a direct responsibility of a nonprofit board, and a critical one at that. It is tempting to think that the election process for local government boards makes this a less important issue, especially since we all hear derisive comments from time to time about the “good ole boys network”. If a government board is functioning at a high level, building trust in the community, operating with transparency and ample public participation, then I would think citizens would welcome knowing that their board is actively pursuing the education and preparation of their successors, individuals who will be ready to step in to the elective process ready to carry on the quality work already underway. This acceptance by the public is more likely if participation is open to any and all who are interested.

This kind of planned revitalization could be accomplished through participation on committees and leadership programs. It could also be done with citizen advisory committees. Choosing people who represent the diversity present in any community to offer their thoughts on issues the board is working on, will help the board ensure their decision-making process includes enough information about potential impacts of their decisions to minimize the likelihood of unanticipated consequences. 

A board needs to begin this process with a healthy dose of realism. You can’t get there overnight, but you will never get there if you don’t start. Small steps along the way should result in better governance than we currently have. So how do we get started? Talk with your board; bring in a facilitator if needed, to help you have that discussion of things that need to be done to improve your board as a team. Then, decide which aspect of board function is most important to improve first, and get started. Maybe it’s a key issue like building trust. Maybe it’s doing some simple things, the low hanging fruit that everyone can agree on. Get started, and when you have some success, celebrate it. If you need help getting started, whether it’s a facilitator or just talking some things through, Michigan State University Extension’s Government and Public Policy Team has people who can help. Whether you are looking for assistance or someone to share your success with, send me an email, I’d love to hear about it.

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