I couldn't help starting with the commitment I made, around this time last year, to explore boardroom dynamics this year. Writing about nonprofit practice is my bottom line in everything I do related to boards. The "process" piece was new to me, prompted by an ongoing observation that many of the challenges boards face stem from plain, garden variety "interpersonal communication 101" types of issues. The collection of posts on board dynamics that resulted is a good start to a topic that will continue to enjoy an ongoing spotlight here.
A few favorite "board process" posts
Group process social lit review: Inside the Boardroom. Based on the book that started it all for me - Richard Leblanc and James Gillies' book Inside the Boardroom: How Boards Really Work and the Coming Revolution in Corporate Governance - this one featured research that connected directly to board interactions and relationships. While describing corporate boards, the board effectiveness model that emerged - and the 10 director types - absolutely apply to the nonprofit setting (and filled in more than a couple of missing puzzle pieces for me).
The right kind of board conflict. Conflict is inevitable in board work. It's the type of conflict - the healthy give and take of cognitive conflict vs. the counterproductive and off-topic affective conflict - that matters. We need productive conflict to stimulate the kinds of discussions that lead to thoughtful, effective decision making. We don't need the interpersonal nitpicking and personality conflicts that derail that process.
Avoiding 9 boardroom pathologies. This one is a favorite because it hit a little too close to home. It names several of the more common interpersonal and group challenges that are too often enacted in our boards.
No fair! Social loafing in the boardroom. This topic also hit a little too close to home (witnessed and occasionally teetered personally). That, and the fact that the phenomenon appeared in virtually every group process resource I encountered, made this post a must-write. It also helped to reinforce the need for the high performance bar that became its own, informal theme this year.
Favorite board performance/effectiveness posts
Nonprofit governance: Boards rising (or stooping) to our expectations. I'm sick to death of the endless parade of "overcoming the burden of your boards"/"why boards stink" messages that exist in governance literature, conferences, and research questions. (Self-fulfilling prophecy, anyone?) As a board member, and someone who sees the great potential boards represent as community leaders, I take a different view: set the bar high - and support them - and these community leaders will respond. It needed to be said - and I'll keep saying it until we change the narrative (and support structures) around nonprofit governance.
Essential capacities of a board chair. We often act as though the key to effective nonprofit board performance lies with the executive director, which is terribly misplaced. Whether or not our boards lead or whether they simply fill space around the boardroom table lies in the board chairperson/president's willingness and capacity to fulfill the significant responsibilities that come with the job. This person sets the tone, sets the agenda (literally, in collaboration with the ED and board), and keeps focus. We cannot take this role too seriously.
10 ways to vitalize board committees. Board performance success also requires an engaged approach to using our committees, as our lead researchers, resident experts, and work groups for advancing our goals. I'm also drawn to this one because, frankly, it's one of the most popular posts of the year - not because of any particular brilliance in what is shared, but because "nonprofit board committees" is a perpetual search topic that draws new readers to the site. There appears to be a strong need for quality resources that addressing board committee effectiveness - a gap that I anticipate addressing here in 2014.
Boards 101: A few essential resources. Another surprisingly popular post - again, speaking more to a hunger for access to quality information - is this post from last month. I've already shared it widely, as an online handout. I anticipate it becoming regular recommended reading for anyone needing an overview of what boards do.
The generative/revolutionary - special - stuff
Governance as Leadership: My latest attempt to articulate a revolutionary board model. Chait, Ryan and Taylor's world-shifting framework continues to inspire and inform my thinking. It's the "revolutionary" current underlying it all. While I'll never win any broadcasting awards for the video at the center of the post, it's my most comprehensive, public effort to date to share what makes this model so important and new (nearly 10 years after its initial release).
Engaging the introverted board member. This hit home in a positive way: drawing from work that has impacted me personally to think differently about board members just like me. I had fun not only sharing Susan Cain's important work on introversion, but applying it in creative ways to thinking about how we engage our quieter board members in ways that are authentic to how they (we) work.
Wisdom Wednesday: Thinking and becoming. Applying my individual mantra to nonprofit governance was personally meaningful. Where we focus boards' attention is where we will go. Will that be the future, or will it be wallowing in the here and now? While we can't ignore the reality of today, we also can't afford to have our boards forget their ultimate responsibility: the future. They are the definers and the guardians of the horizon to which we all are moving.
Open letter to an exemplar board. I'll close with a link to my favorite post of the year. It holds that place of honor for two reasons. One is the international visibility that it received (not going to lie - that was a bit of a rush). But more important was the chance for me to publicly thank the board that welcomed me into its meetings and work to study effective governance. It also facilitated the "aha" moment that resulted when I realized that I found the hope that drives everything in the example that they provided.