If we accept the general premise of the 70:20:10 framework that I described in my last "board learning environments" post - that members learn to govern and lead in ways far broader than formal orientations and training sessions - what might that look like?
How are our board members already learning (whether or not they realize it)? What if increased awareness of those natural experiences led to new ways to support them? Rather than posing "70:20:10" as a magic formula that nonprofits must adopt in these two posts, I offer it as encouragement to expand our definition of board learning and open awareness to facilitate higher-quality versions of the experiences board members already are having.
What might informal, social and informal learning look like in a nonprofit board environment? This post offers a few examples - and an invitation to add your own. What am I missing? What does or doesn't resonate for you on my list? Why? Please share your feedback and help us expand our conceptualization of nonprofit board learning in all of its forms.
Experiential/informal board member learning
- Discussions and deliberations, especially those that encourage exploration of multiple perspectives and knowledge sources.
- Site visits and other opportunities to observe and understand your work.
- Hands-on experience, outside of board duties, that puts them closer to the daily work of the organization (Note: this is not encouraging board member micromanagement or blurring of governance/volunteerism boundaries.). This may also be previous volunteer experience that they bring onto the board (e.g., former volunteers in other areas who are recruited to the board). Direct experience can inform their understanding of your mission and your organization.
- Committee work, which offers a range of learning experiences, including: immersion in a smaller scope of the board's work, developing peer expertise in that niche (and sharing that growing knowledge with fellow board members), working closely with staff members and others with similar interest (and different skill or knowledge sets) on the topic of focus.
- Opportunities to hear client testimonies, preferably in person (easier to provide in some contexts than others).
- Stretch assignments that require learning something new (about the mission, organization, governance, etc.) and applying it to board responsibilities.
- Informal research, including web searches, to inform thinking and discussions about topics before the board.
- Access to board portals and online knowledge banks.
- Making mistakes, reflecting on them and learning from them.
Social learning in board work
- Assigning peer mentors to support new member introduction into the board and its work
- Supportive interactions with the board chairperson and other board leaders.
- Working with the CEO.
- The peer interactions that take place in committee work.
- Self-assessment, board evaluations and other feedback processes that provide information and opportunities for reflection.
- Participation in networks and professional associations related to the organization, mission area or governance responsibilities.
- Team-based assignments.
- Action learning projects.
Formal board learning
- New member orientation events.
- Board training sessions.
- Retreats that include educational components.
- Participation in conferences related to the organization, mission area or governance responsibilities (e.g., Colorado/Wyoming Association of Museums conference, BoardSource Leadership Forum).
- Online courses.
- Webinars and other synchronous, virtual learning events.
What am I missing on these lists?
One of the reasons I included the video above is Jennings' reference (around 3:00) to providing just-in-time performance support. As suggested in previous posts in this series, I see this as a major growth area (and compelling need) in nonprofit board development. I have some emerging ideas about how we do this, but I also trust that there are organizations and support systems that already are doing this and offering models from which we all can learn. I'm especially interested in hearing about those examples: what is being provided, in what venues, supporting boards in what ways.
NOTE: As I advance the "Building Environments for Board Learning and Leadership" theme, I'm creating sets of resources for readers who are interested in exploring the topic on their own. One is a new Pinterest board, devoted to posts that address this theme. A set of bookmarks also will continue to grow with the series. At the moment, those resource lists are predictably small, but they will expand over time. For more general resources on both learning environments and performance support, visit my Pinterest board dedicated to those topics.