Friday, February 28, 2014

Agenda item: Silent starts to big discussions

Agenda item 9: Begin important discussions with a silent start.

This week's agenda item for advancing generative nonprofit leadership comes straight from Governance as Leadership, the seminal text on nonprofit boards.

Before launching a significant discussion, begin with a silent start. Ask members to take two to five minutes to write down on an index card "the most important question the board and management should consider relevant to the issue at hand" (p. 128).

Collect the cards, mix them up, redistribute them, and have members take turns reading the questions submitted. Look for themes emerging in the responses. What emerges as most critical? What do they suggest about where members' minds, interests and concerns are as you begin deliberations?

There are at least a couple of reasons I consider this exercise to be agenda-worthy. One, it encourages board members to pause for a moment, shift gears, and prepare for a thoughtful conversation about topic that is worthy of their expertise and wisdom.

Two, it asks participants to reflect on what they consider to be the questions most compelling before embarking on the discussion. By taking that time to center their thoughts and articulate their highest priorities for discussion - and sharing those questions with the group - they raise the potential for focused and productive deliberations. They have a starting point, they have a sense of highest priorities, and they have the opportunity to govern rather than wander.

Every time I revisit Governance as Leadership and its board-friendly counterpart, Practitioner's Guide to Governance as Leadership, I'm reminded of the revolutionary nature of the model they describe - and that I have chosen as the foundation for the generative governance agenda that I am laying out this year. Moving forward on that agenda, I'm thinking that I will be more deliberate in sharing highlights from both resources, and my own interpretations/research based around that model.

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