I was recently asked for thoughts on what makes Boards successful. This is a challenging subject, although there is literature exploring the question. To respond, I reflected on my time as Board Chair of an not-for-profit NGO and subsequently the organizations Executive Director. Here are six things I believe high performing Boards have in common. This is obviously not an exhaustive list. But, they are the six things that came to mind. I hope you find them helpful.
Six Things I Believe Make An Effective Board
- Sound strategy starts with having the right goal. A clear understanding of WHY they exist and WHO they serve drives successful Boards. Every adopted strategy should be clearly connected to the goal adopted by constituents.
- Constructive conflict leads to better Board decisions. Boards operating in false harmony – where no one truly speaks their mind or challenges the status quo – rarely find innovative solutions to challenges. Innovation more often comes from respectful debate.
- Truth has boundaries. My professors in theoretical mathematics taught you not only need to understand the conditions under which something is true; but, also the conditions that make it false. Many times when Board members disagree, it is because they are not looking at the same facts. Getting clarity on the “truth” of a situation by looking at it through another person’s eyes often leads to a third alternative solution. As boundaries are understood, they are often expanded. The only limits are those of vision. Seeing beyond your own horizon is key.
- Respectful communication improves results. It is important for Boards to actively solicit feedback from constituents throughout tactical execution and strive to incorporate diverse viewpoints into project decisions. A willingness to ask for and receive input ensures transparency and provides an opportunity for Boards to provide relevant facts to minimize rumors stemming from constituent misunderstanding.
- Decision Matrices are key to minimizing Board decision risk.This process allows for effective evaluation of solution options along with risks, and provides a dispassionate prioritization based on pre-determined criteria set. The process also allows for broader constituent participation and ultimately communication of the final Board decision.
- Constituent satisfaction is the most relevant success measure for a Board. In process measures (e.g. financials) are important for managing an organization. But, constituent perception holds the Board directly accountable for delivering the end defined goal.