Monday, November 3, 2014

Dealing with nonprofit board dysfunction

How do we help our boards avoid the dysfunction that too often comes between them and the work that they gather to do? How do we handle that dysfunction as effectively - and quickly - as possible when it does enter the boardroom space?

This week, I share another video, produced by the Stanford Graduate Graduate School of Business, that addresses that topic in a succinct and helpful way.  I also offer a few reactions to what they provide here.

The first, and most important, point that they make comes at the opening: addressing boardroom issues is a peer-driven event. Ultimately, it belongs to the board members themselves to create - and reinforce - a healthy culture. That includes tackling problematic interactions, attitudes and performances themselves.  It's not fun. But it's critical to overall board performance.

The recommendation to document the dysfunctional behavior is important to making a credible case for change. That not only provides evidence to which the individual and group can respond (also note the call to consider group-level intervention), it also reduces the risk of it being perceived as a personal attack. It also offers a foundation for coming up with healthy and appropriate strategies to deal with the problem.

The caution to avoid unnecessary burning of bridges is an important one. First, as noted here, it's unlikely that whatever problem lies solely within one individual's actions. There may be one or more organizational/group factors that also contributed to the breakdown - including whether/how the board chairperson handled any challenge before the situation reached a point of no return.

Second, whether or not continuing on the board is a good option for the individual member or the group, that person undoubtedly still carries a commitment to the mission and the potential to continue to serve as a viable and valued ambassador for your mission. How you handle the problematic situation, and potential separation of service, can mean the difference between a continued loyal ally and an indifferent former member (or worse, an enemy).

I'm spotlighting this video as an encouragement to use it as a discussion starter for your board. What are your challenges to a functional and healthy boardroom culture? How do you handle them as a group? Do you accept collective accountability for tending to group health, or do you ignore it (or almost as bad, expect the CEO to handle the messy stuff for you?). What can you do to increase a collective sense of commitment to not only governance outcomes but to the environment in which those outcomes are created?

What can you do - as a group - to commit to making your board work not only more productive but more fun and fulfilling for members in the midst of it?

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