Friday, April 29, 2016

Governance toolbox: April 2016 potpourri

While "potpourri" has been the informal theme of the weekly toolbox posts for awhile now, by tradition, the last Friday of the month marks the official call for a healthy mix of Internet goodness carrying the promise of enhancing your nonprofit board's effectiveness.

Do you have a contrarian on your team? -- Even if the answer to the headline for your current board is no, chances are good that you have had the pleasure of having someone who functioned as a devil's advocate in another governance setting. "Pleasure" may not have been the descriptor you had in mind at the time. I've certainly had other phrases bouncing in my head while interacting with individuals who poked and prodded us in sometime uncomfortable directions. But the team research described in this Stanford Business School post offers evidence for not only tolerating the counterpoint that these individuals bring to the table but welcoming and maybe even seeking it out. The critical qualifier here is "constructive." The dynamic introduced in presenting divergent opinions should be a constructive push to consider alternatives and seek out information about weaknesses in dominant positions and arguments made.

The five biggest mistakes new leaders make -- As usual, I'm sure Dan Rockwell didn't have nonprofit board leaders in mind when he wrote this recent post. But I see application to that group, some crystal clear and some a slightly bigger stretch. While any of the five mistakes can challenge a board chair's term of service, and the "bonus mistakes" also can be problematic, I'm most drawn to numbers one and three on his list. Boards have a broad range of responsibilities to which they must tend during the year. But they also are volunteers with limits on time and energy for the job. Their organizational missions are (we hope) as broad as they are inspiring. The risk of boards spreading themselves too thin and losing focus for what matters most, right now, is high. That's true of the board chair as well. It also is a significant responsibility that that leader assumes in the position: to challenge the board to identify priority areas where their impact potential is highest and to help that body maintain focus and motivation for succeeding.

Board culture determines governance outcomes -- On first glance, the topic of Cathy Trower's latest LinkedIn post may seem too fuzzy to qualify as a "tool." But I see potential here as a resource for two things: one, individual and collective reflection on how we really function as a board; and two, as the source of potential questions for our next board self-assessment process. In fact, I may just put some energy into doing just that for a self-assessment project I'm developing. What potential "culture" questions does this post spark for you?

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