According to Team Technology, the terms groups and teams are often used interchangeably, although there is a distinct difference between them. Groups draw their members from a social community, whereas teams come together with commonality as a shared goal. In defining those terms separately, boards of directors are defined as being a team. The success of the whole team depends upon the team players being dependent and interdependent upon each other. That dynamic is strongest when each board member performs at his or her best. Developing a strong board begins with orienting and training each member of the team so that the whole team wins at its mission.
Best practices for board development have grown from existing boards that have done self-evaluation to identify their strengths and weaknesses. Boards that are looking to begin doing board development will need to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their current members. In most cases, it’s not prudent to take board meeting time to develop a plan for board training. Planning for board development and training is often best performed in a committee that is formed for that purpose.
The New York City Office of the Mayor put together a whitepaper that outlines some basic best practices for board development. For-profit boards and non-profit boards can use these principles as a starting point for the board development committee.
- Develop a strategic plan-identify long term goals and perform board member self-assessments to see if the board has the collective skills to reach the goals.
- Establish a 100% board contribution policy-vote on term limits and include them in the bylaws. Establish a policy that includes a minimum that board members are expected to contribute. This could include policies on board meeting attendance, contributing to board meeting discussion, adding items to the board agenda, participating in committee meetings, or other criteria.
- Convene a board development committee-review best practices from other boards, evaluate board member needs to reach goals, evaluate board member skills, identify and evaluate opportunities for workshops and training programs, make recommendations for board member training to the board.
- The recruitment board or committee provides comprehensive information to candidates ahead of time-board member recruiters identify viable candidates using their networks, volunteers, donors, community leaders, business leaders, non-profit match-makers, and through existing board member networks.
- Orient new directors with a board manual and a board mentor-board members should receive a copy of the board handbook and a copy of the organization’s programs, sites, and budget. Pair an existing board member with a new board member to acclimate them to board culture and protocols, and to serve as a mentor. Orient them to governing rules, staff responsibilities, and board accomplishments.
- Send all committee minutes and reports at least one week ahead of the board meeting-move meetings along expeditiously while still addressing all pertinent agenda items. Use a consent agenda for routine items when agenda items begin to get lengthy. Require board members to provide detailed reports ahead of time so board members have time to review them before the meeting. Delegate matters that require research to committees.
- Ensure financial reporting is meaningful to the board-all board members should be trained on how to read and understand financial reports. Provide board members with opportunities to take workshops, attend conferences, expand networking, and be mentored in all important matters of the board.
Venture Philanthropy Partners authored an article called, “Board Development: It’s the Right Thing,” where they share the lessons they learned on developing strong boards in the for-profit and non-profit sectors. Here are some of the points they came up with:
- Good boards insist on accountability.
- At some point, the board can no longer simply be “the executive director’s board.”
- Board seats should be filled according to needs, not personalities.
- Chemistry is critical.
- The best board members will know the organization and the market.
- Board members challenge the organization’s thinking.
- Board members see value by being on the board.
Board development committees should keep the board roles in mind when developing their board training platform. Venture Philanthropy Partners reminds board members to use the three strategic roles for boards that were discussed in a report by McKinsey & Company called, “The Dynamic Board: Lessons from High-Performing Nonprofits.” The strategic roles include:
- Shape direction through mission, strategy, and key policies.
- Ensure that leadership, resources, and finances are commensurate with vision.
- Monitor performance and ensure prompt corrective action when needed.
When board members are well-acquainted with what is expected of them as a representative of the board and are willing to accept being mentored and trained, the board is well on its way to becoming a strong and effective board. Receiving training is sure to give each board member the confidence to truly be an independent voice on a board that uses a team approach to making the best interests of the organization and stakeholders their first priority.