Micromanagement at its Worst or Disengagement at its Best

Over the years, I have attended, as a pastor, member of multiple not for profit organizations and more recently as a consultant, more board meetings than I care to think about. This experience unfortunately has led me to conclude that more often than not they don’t understand their role. These ineffective boards generally fall into one of two categories; either they end up micro managing the organization, or they disengage. The micro managers somehow feel they can do a better job running the organization than those who have been hired to do so. Instead of dealing with issues of policy and organizational direction they end up discussing the colour  of the new chairs in the office, or what brand of coffee should be purchased. Boards migrate to this approach because often this is easier and more natural to board members. Operational issue are concrete and making decisions in these areas produce tangible results. You can purchase a computer or paint a room and see the results. It is much more difficult, on the other hand, for most of us to wrestle with the abstract, to think at that higher level where the vision and longer term direction of the church or organization is hammered out.  Place this along side of the idea of policy setting and most people’s eyes glaze over. They assume they’re in for a boring experience, not understanding that the establishment of policy is critical to the operation of the church or organization.  Policy is the rails on which an organization runs on. Policies define the parameters for the operational staff and at the same time...

Confusion of Expectation

You have just been elected to the board of your church and the question is, “What does that mean?” My guess is, if your church is like most churches, there is little by way of preparation provided for new board members.  What there is a lot of is confusion around what exactly is expected of you.  And because of this confusion, I can almost guarantee that you will be approached by a number of congregants with requests to get the board to do everything from buying new towel dispensers, to making sure the worship team sings more hymns, to disciplining the pastor for something he said from the pulpit. So how does a board bring clarity to this minefield of expectations? It starts with a few simple principles: Remember whatever the organization, as a board, you are first and foremost about mission. A board that does not own the mission/purpose of the enterprise is missing the key element of governance. Always have S.M.A.R.T ENDS in mind and move most of the MEANS to leadership and expect them to tend those (within empowering limits you set).  Defining the ENDS is the most critical board function. Establish the key result areas and monitor outcomes. Inattention to results is the primary cause of organizational failure, which is ultimately the board’s...

A Necessary Evil

Boards are an endurance test and a necessary evil. When was the last time you looked forward to a board meeting? If your experience is like most, it can best be captured by the words  “Don’t wait up for me, I have board meeting tonight.” By definition, Board Governance is best described as the gathering of two or more wise and capable leaders who have been entrusted with the role, authority and relationships to use their power to direct the affairs of the organization, ministry or enterprise.  And, because Boards only function when they meet, the Board meeting is the primary context for directing the affairs of the organization. Unfortunately, all too often board meetings turn into marathons of frustration rather than productive meaningful experiences. But take heart, it doesn’t have to be this way.  By following a few simple rules you can turn you board meetings into productive meaningful experiences. Always work from an agenda. The Board chairperson in concert with the CEO or Director of the organization is responsible for the preparing of the agenda. Board members should be advised to submit any agenda items two weeks prior to the board meeting. All agenda items must be screened by the Chair to ensure they are in fact Board responsibilities. All items for discussion should have back up material especially where a decision must be reached at the meeting; this material must be sent out to the board members with the agenda and any appropriate instructions at least one week prior to the meeting. The Board Chair must assign time allotments for each item on the agenda according...

Clearly Defining the Roles

Boards are gatherings of effective people who become ineffective when gathered as a board. I was recently participating in a board meeting that had gone far too long, when in frustration I began to wonder how it was possible that ten relatively successful, intelligent people could spend so much time talking about nothing. Not that the issue we were discussing was nonsense, but those around the table had very little knowledge of the issue and even less understanding of how to resolve the problem. That’s when it hit me. The reason effective people become ineffective when they serve on a board is that they don’t understand what their role as a board member really is.  No one ever explained to them what they were supposed to do when they became a board member so they default to the hat they wear or, in the case of retired individuals, wore in the workplace. For the small business owner it means making decisions on everything from the purchase of paper clips to the purchasing of property.  For the university researcher it means knowing every detail before a decision can be made.  For the school principle it often means endless philosophical discussions, and for the company executive it can mean having the final say. None of these hats are wrong, per say, nor are the individuals who wear them bad people, it’s just that when we wear them to the board room it creates confusion and frustration. The job gets further complicated when, in the church, we add the dimension of elder to the role of board member. So how do we...

The Mission Is Clear Or Is It?

I was watching the news the other evening and they were running a story featuring the new supreme commander of the NATO forces in Afghanistan. In the course of his challenge to the troops he said, “We are in this to win, that is our clear objective.” In other words, our mission is clear, we are here to win. However it has been my experience that when it comes to mission, things are often not so clear. What one organization calls mission another calls vision and still another uses terms like purpose and objectives. Is it any wonder then, that our carefully crafted mission and vision statements have little impact on those who are charged with the responsibility of carrying it out? What the general calls “objective” is really the Mission of the NATO forces. One might word it this way, “The mission of the NATO forces in Afghanistan is to win the war against the Taliban”, or “we are in this to win”. If one accepts this as the mission, the next logical question is what will victory look like? Or, how will we know when we have achieved victory? At one time the simple answer would have been when the enemy surrenders and has signed a peace treaty. Unfortunately, today things are much more complicated. Both the nature of the enemy and the context of the war make such a neat conclusion impossible. Consequently we have to take the time to clearly articulate what that victory will look like for both the combatants and those whose land we are defending. We have to, as it were, paint...