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 help these otherwise effective individuals become effective board members?

First, we have to clearly define the role of the board member, and that includes what they do and don’t do as board member. In other words, clearly defining what the board members “hat” looks like.  Where the role of elder is part of the board members function, this hat too must be clearly defined.  And, make no mistake, these two hats are very different.

Once the roles, or hats, are clearly defined, the job of the chair becomes one of constantly reminding board members of what hat they should be wearing at any given time in the meeting.

Understanding our role as board members is the staring place for good governance.

Next time: Boards are an endurance test and a necessary evil.

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