The "four ways adults learn" that Charles Jennings shares in this video particularly resonates as appropriate to what happens - or should happen - in the governance process. Watch, then reflect with me on what they mean for boardroom work.
Exposure to rich and challenging experiences
Governance is inherently rich and challenging. It's leadership, after all. Give board members mission-driven, meaningful challenges. Invite them to experience your work firsthand (in appropriate ways). Give them a context for understanding what you do and what stands between you and success. Expect them to lead, situationally (e.g., drawing upon their specific expertise when it's needed) and within their official roles within the board.
The opportunity to practice
Make sure that everyone has meaningful responsibilities that (a) draw upon their existing talents and (b) help them develop new capacities that, in turn, help them govern more effectively. Governance is an active process; they should be learning and sharing and contributing - not sitting back, passively listening to what others spoon-feed them. Give them chances to share what they know, and to expand that knowledge as they engage in meaningful board work. Make sure that everyone has a chance - and the responsibility - to participate in board leadership, whether or not it comes with a title.
Participation in rich conversations and networks
Board members naturally learn in engaging meetings that expect them to participate. They should come to the boardroom table ready to discuss, share, and question. Speaking of questions... Big questions should be the focal point of what happens in those meetings. Members also learn when they have a chance to extend beyond their individual boardroom, to their community and with their peers who share similar roles in other nonprofits. Do your local boards have opportunities to compare notes? To learn from each other? To explore collaboration opportunities?
Spaces for reflection
Regular readers are deeply familiar with my thinking on this one. Boards learn (and govern more effectively) when they have a chance to step back, take stock of what they know (and identify what they don't know), and think before they make big decisions. They also benefit from having time to read, listen, and reflect on the materials we provide for them ahead of the meeting. If they're opening board packets the night before the meeting - or, heaven forbid, at the meeting - we won't get their best.