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Is Your Board Bored?

Admit it! Sometimes serving on the board can seem like drudgery. Reviewing another financial report, approving the minutes of the last meeting or listening to another staff update may not get your adrenaline pumping. In fact, the thought of your next board meeting may be such a downer that you don't look at the agenda until the last minute.

Bored board members can be hazardous to the health of the organization. If they become too bored, they may create issues or problems just to liven things up; such as becoming involved in micromanagement. Boards are made up of intelligent, forward-thinking, creative people. When their role is reduced to a mundane position of approvals, filing, reviewing, and nodding of heads, intelligence and creativity will find expression in other less-productive ways.

How can a “bored board” revitalize itself and keep from falling into a destructive pattern? I offer the following suggestions:

Focus on organizational performance – Christine Letts, in her book High Performance Nonprofit Organizations says, “A board's job is not done until it has led its organization – not just to a clearer sense of its mission – but to better performance.” Effective boards are forward-looking and offer their expertise on how the organization may perform better. This is not exclusively in the areas of financial resources, as many board member think! In fact money is really not an indicator of organizational performance at all! Money is an input towards an expected outcome. It is the role of the organization to convert the money and resources into the expected results or purpose of the organization. A Board's discussion should regularly move towards looking at the impact the ministry is having on the community.

Impact can be measured in a variety of ways, but the constant focus on three questions is the beginning of performance measurement: What good will be accomplished? For whom? And at what cost? Once those questions have been answered, the board can establish performance goals and begin to focus on the effectiveness of the ministry.

Spend time asking questions – The greatest value a board member can bring to an organization is the ability to ask the question that no one else has thought of. Board members who come to meetings with questions instead of answers move the organization forward. Questions that lead to better organizational awareness, innovation, discovery, and are externally focused are the sign of true leadership. “Sometimes, leadership differs from non-leadership only that leadership views the world from a slightly wider lens” says John Carver in Boards that Make a Difference . Questions are the wide angle lens of the board member. Spend time preparing for your next meeting by asking yourself “What don't I know about…?” and move your board into new levels of excitement.

Invest in Board development – Many boards are concerned that if they allocate organizational resources toward themselves they may violate the desires of donors. As a result boards can become stagnate and may get themselves into destructive cycles. Effective boards must invest in themselves. This may mean board retreats, hiring external consultants, or traveling to a conference. This investment is an investment in the capacity of the organization. The organization can only advance as far as the leadership. If the board is uneducated then they will keep the ministry from moving towards excellence.

Become a Team – Though much has been written on teambuilding, a common theme is that people are motivated when they feel like they are a part of a team. God created us as relational beings. Board members are recruited because they are decision makers - strong, clear thinking individuals. Sometimes these characteristics can get in the way of building a solid working team. Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, says that teams must have trust between members, healthy conflict, commitment, accountability, and a focus on results. As Christian leaders in your ministry, it is imperative that boards fight for these five healthy characteristics:

  • Trust is established through a development of relationship with one another. This includes the E.D., who should be a trusted member and contributor to the team.
  • Healthy conflict causes us to challenge ourselves to attain new levels of excellence. Consensus is the greatest enemy of leadership, but healthy conflict can only happen when we trust one another.

  • As conflict is resolved we get buy-in from all the members of the team. The resolution of healthy conflict creates a “brothers in arms” commitment between team members.

  • When people are fully committed to the team they will hold one another accountable. Accountability pushes us towards greatness as individuals, as well as the team.

  • Finally, a functioning team will have a relentless pursuit of a collective outcome. This performance becomes a force to propel us to ever higher levels of effectiveness in ministry.

Imagine if every member of your board applied these principles to their role on the board. There would be no room for boredom in the boardroom. Go ahead, take the first step.

Bruce E. Cole is Manager of Professional Development Services in the Sanctity of Human Life Department at Focus on the Family. He has been Executive Director for two Pregnancy Resource Centers, is a former pastor, and holds a Master's Degree in Organization Development from Central Washington University. Bruce can be reached at [email protected]

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