When a board member accepts a new position on a board, it’s rare that the board member knows exactly what to do and how to do it. Active board members will get up to speed quickly on their own, but there’s no question that a strong orientation primes new board members for their duties. Regular training keeps them invested in staying active and fulfilling their roles on the board, in committees, and networking outside of board duties. Orientation and training creates opportunities for new members to get acquainted and begin networking with other board members, management, vendors, and employees.
Boards need to have a plan for orientation and a process for training new board members. The plan and process will certainly be customized according to the needs of the organization. Smaller boards may have a fairly informal process, but that doesn’t negate the need for following through with training. One option for smaller boards is to carve out 15 minutes, or more, of regular board meeting time to do some training. Larger boards may need a Board Development Committee.
Board Development Committee
When a board of directors has a full agenda, there is no time for doing training during the meeting. As with any other issue where the board needs to devote their time and energy, planning for board development is often better done in a committee, where committee members have time to do adequate planning. Before the Board Development Committee can get started, it needs to form a consensus about what the role of the committee is. The committee will need to make decisions about their recruitment priorities, desired board member skills and knowledge, contacts, and resources.
Recruitment is a key process for the board development committee. When the committee takes a thoughtful approach to recruiting new board members, in most cases, they will have less work to do during orientation and training processes. The orientation plan should be developed well in advance of the induction of new board members. In addition to orienting and training new board members, the board development needs to devise a plan for continued training for the CEO and the existing board officers and members.
Assessing the Strengths and Needs of the Board
Every board should be concerned with how their board functions as a whole unit. The board development committee is the driving force behind the plan to make a well-functioning board of directors perform even better.
Before training can be developed, the board development committee needs to make an assessment of the board’s existing strengths, weaknesses, skills, talents, and abilities. It helps for the board development committee to get the full board of directors to “buy in” to the need for the board to evaluate each board member and the board as a unit.
Assessment Tools and Materials
The first task for the board development committee is to decide which evaluation instruments they will use and who will be responsible for administering them. It may be helpful to ask for the assistance of a third party, objective volunteer.
The committee may decide to ask board members to be part of the evaluation process, either by evaluating themselves or by evaluating another board member. The board may also use an assessment questionnaire for evaluating the board, as a whole. Board may use existing evaluation templates that other organizations have developed or customize some of their own.
The person that is designated to distribute and collect the evaluations may compile and analyze the findings or may be directed by the committee to give them to another person who will make a formal report to the board.
The committee will then need to identify their training goals and determine the next actions steps. The board development plan should be approved by the full board or detailed in the organization’s bylaws.
Training Tools and Materials
The board development committee will make a recommendation to the full board about whether they will need to hire or recruit a facilitator for training, or whether an existing board member will serve that role.
The first few training sessions should begin with the board handbook or board manual. Board members should also have a position description of the board members and other key positions. Board members should be directed to a copy of the strategic plan as they will be directly involved in carrying it out. It’s also helpful for board members to have a copy of Robert’s Rules or to know how to access them online.
Board training can happen as often as the board deems necessary. If training is not on-going, it should be placed on the board’s calendar to address it at least once a year.
The hardest part of the setting up a board training program is getting started. It helps for board development committee members to think about the kind of training and help that they wished they’d had when they became board members and incorporate those ideas into the training. The committee will easily be able to brainstorm the kinds of things and identify training topics that will be comprehensive and diverse. As part of assessing and developing the board members, facilitators can enhance the training by highlighting and celebrating board members’ successes. Sharing in those successes will add an extra dose of inspiration and encouragement to every member of the board to be fully engaged in training opportunities.