Culture is an elusive thing, not necessarily easy to see - or see fully. But Barbara Miller and Jeanne Bergman's article, Developing Leadership on Boards of Directors, does a good job of introducing the topic and offering boards a few markers for sparking discussion and action.
My bias should obvious to any regular reader of this blog: we don't get to effective, powerful, vision- and mission-driven governance via "10 basic responsibilities" alone. Governance is a commitment of vision, accountability, engagement and action. Understanding and fostering a culture rich in expectation, focus and possibility propels us toward those ends.
I'd encourage you to download and read the entire article (and pass it on to your board), but I'd also like to point out one section that is resonating for me this morning.
How boards create a culture that promotes leadership (found on p. 6)
- "Recruit people to the board who have a passion for your mission.
- "Connect trustees with the organization's work through direct experience, conversations with program staff and compelling stories that illustrate the importance of the organization's work.
- "State expectations of board members up front during the recruitment process.
- "Make time to talk together as a board about the culture that you want to create or perpetuate on the board, and how you can work together most productively.
- "Let potential board members know about the culture of the board up front.
- "Create rituals to celebrate achievements, recognize people who have made a contribution, and mark new moments in an organization's history.
- "Compare how the board operates with the organization's values, and determine if the structure and the values need to be more closely aligned.
- "Acknowledge the contributions of those who have made the organization what it is today, and then focus on how to maintain the founding principles in a changing environment."
Simply introducing the topic, and providing the open space for reflecting as a group on the environment in which members govern, can be incredibly powerful. It is also far too rare. Imagine the impact of a board regularly setting aside time to focus on building its capacity to serve and appreciating the impacts their leadership has on fulfilling the vision and mission.
Now, anyone who truly understands "culture" will tell us this list barely scratches the surface of what really is involved. But even a simplistic starting point to thinking about governance beyond a list of tasks to check off, of building meaning in work that should be inherently meaningful, is a healthy investment for our boards.