We have embarked on a multi-post series concerning governance, grounded upon the assertion that, Organizations are built from the bottom up but they fall apart from the top down.
Signs of a bumbling board
If it is true that organizational failure and board failure are inextricably linked, what are some of the most common shortcomings of nonprofit boards? In his classic, Boards That Make a Difference, John Carver cites the following flaws typical of nonprofit boards:
- Time on trivia
- Short term bias
- Reactive (vs. proactive)
- Leaky accountability
- Ambiguous authority
If you are interested in moving your board performance needle, a good first step would be to elicit a frank assessment of the extent to which any or all of these flaws are apparent in your board. Depending on the culture of your board, you may need to take a more or less cautious approach to such assessment.
Facing the music, calling the tune
But do not make the mistake of confusing avoidance with caution. You are doomed to dysfunction to the extent you resist assessment. You could start by asking yourself. You could have a confidential conversation around the above five flaws with your board chair or your executive committee. You could invite an outsider (sure, I’ll do it) to take the risk. You could create a simple board survey, asking members to indicate on a Likert scale the frequency or extent to which the above flaws present themselves in your board’s functioning. Just start the conversation—and revisit it on a regular basis. After all, feedback is the breakfast of champions.
In the next post, I’ll pick up the discussion by talking about how great boards take responsibility for themselves.
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