Thursday, July 12, 2007

Problem Boards or Board Problems?

Last time, I mentioned the thought work I’m doing in preparation for dissertation research on board learning, and the reading that is helping to shape the theoretical foundation from which that work will be built.

One of the key resources for that foundation is a recent book, Governance as Leadership, by William Ryan, Richard Chait and Barbara Taylor. This text adds new insights every time I re-read it, becoming essential to the ideas behind my research questions.

You’ll be hearing more about some of those insights in the months ahead. Today, I would like to share an article based on one of the more important chapters to the model they create, “Problem Boards of Board Problems?” This version appeared in the summer 2003 issue of Nonprofit Quarterly, in advance of the book’s publication.

As I read this article, and eventually the chapter, a lot rang true based on 24 years of board work. Other notions stretched my understanding a bit, either because I had not experienced the phenomenon directly or because I hadn’t considered it in quite the way the authors portrayed it. The bottom line for these authors, which resonated immediately: that board challenges are not necessarily performance-based (though I do believe we have plenty of issues in that area), but rather that board members don’t see their purpose as compelling.

The more I read, reflect on personal experiences, and engage with boards as a member or consultant, the more that clicks for me.

I’d be very interested in any response you might have to the article. A broadly informed reality check is crucial as I proceed with exploring board learning processes. This is an important piece of the puzzle, and your reactions to their argument would help me understand better whether they are on the mark with this.

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