What Questions to Ask When Evaluating Your Board
Private, government and nonprofit organizations typically aren’t required to perform regular board evaluations; however, they have much to benefit by doing them anyway. Most boards find it helpful to perform board and individual board director self-evaluations at least annually. Some organizations add a third component to the evaluation process, which is to also provide feedback to the board chair.
Many boards like the idea of using an independent consultant or facilitator to assist with board evaluations to protect the integrity of the process and ensure that they receive accurate and insightful results. The whole board compiles, shares and discusses the results, with the goal of making overall improvements in the functioning of the board.
Evaluating Your Board With Specific Questions
Boards of non-publicly traded corporations may find it beneficial to use a template for evaluation questions. As each corporation is unique, questions should be reviewed and modified to meet the needs of the organization. The key areas of board evaluations are board performance, board director behavior and the board’s relationship with the executive director.
Boards may use any sort of rating scale, including a poor-to-excellent scale, a numerical scale, or something else.
The following is a sampling of the types of questions that many organizations find useful.
Effectiveness of Board Performance
- How well does the board communicate the organization’s challenges and accomplishments to its members and stakeholders?
- Does the organization have short-term and long-term (five-year) strategic plans?
- Do the board agendas appropriately and adequately represent the organization’s strategic plans and priorities?
- Does the board provide guidance to staff on how to effectively implement the board’s strategies and goals based upon organizational policies?
- Does the board create financial reports on the board’s budget, resource allocation and use of human resources, and share them transparently with its members and stakeholders?
Appropriateness of Board and Board Director Behavior
- How aware are individual board members of the board’s expectations for them?
- Are the board’s agendas well-planned to address ordinary items and new business items?
- How well-prepared are directors for board meetings?
- Do directors receive written reports well enough in advance of meetings?
- Do all board members actively participate in important board discussions?
- How supportive is the board in receiving differing perspectives of board directors?
- Does the board support all collective decisions?
- Does the board actively recruit new board members to form a pipeline of potential board director candidates?
- Does the board have a designated process for orienting new board members?
- Does the board need to reassess or make improvements in the orientation process?
- Does the board have an identified process for director education and development?
- Do the board members enjoy a special camaraderie with each other?
Effectiveness of Board’s Relationship With Executive Director
- Does the board have a clear distinction between the role of the board and the executive director?
- Does the board offer and receive regular feedback from the executive director and lead staff?
- Do the board and the executive director have a mutually honest and trusting relationship?
- Does the board provide guidance and clarification to the executive director about new and existing policies?
- How clear is the board about the kind of information and level of detail they need from the executive director about the functioning of the organization?
- Does the board have a formal process for evaluating the executive director and does the process need improvement?
- Is the board fulfilling its responsibility to perform an evaluation of the executive director annually?
- Does the board base the executive director’s performance primarily on the organization’s strategic goals and priorities?
- Does the board support the executive director and openly express their appreciation for the executive director’s work on a regular basis?
- Does the board offer and encourage the executive director to take advantage of opportunities for professional development?
Performance of Individual Board Members
Questions on the performance of individual directors are designed to help directors identify their own areas of weaknesses and participation. Boards don’t typically share the results of each individual director using their names, but it is helpful to share collective results with the rest of the board. The following questions are relative to individual director performance.
- How well aware are you of what the board expects of you in your role as director?
- Do you regularly attend board and committee meetings?
- Do you spend adequate time in reading board minutes, reports and other materials before board meetings?
- How familiar are you with the organization’s bylaws and governing policies?
- Do you frequently encourage other board members to express their opinions and build on the ideas of fellow board directors?
- How well and how often do other board directors encourage you to express your opinions and ideas?
- What is your level of listening and engagement during board meetings?
- How good is your follow-up to commitments that you made during board meetings?
- Assess your level of confidentiality as it relates to board decisions.
- How comfortable are you at offering a different opinion than other board members?
- Are you able to support collaborative board decisions that you voted against?
- Do you actively promote the organization’s vision and mission within your community?
- Do you frequently share information about relevant issues with your fellow board directors?
Feedback to the Chair of the Board
The board chair holds a special responsibility for guiding the workings of the board. Many boards find it helpful to provide independent and anonymous feedback for the board chair regarding his or her performance. The following questions provide a basis for effective feedback to the board chair.
- Has the board set policies for the role and responsibilities of the board chair?
- Is the board chair well-prepared for board meetings?
- Does the chair make productive use of the agenda, including old and new business?
- Does the chair encourage active participation and sharing of opinions during board meetings?
- Is the board chair a skilled facilitator who can effectively manage varying perspectives and points of view?
- How well does the board chair manage issues of disrespect and dissention?
- Does the board chair deal with contentious board directors directly and responsibly?
- How effectively does the board chair create an environment of openness and acceptance?
- Does the board chair demonstrate and encourage good listening skills?
- How well does the board chair delegate responsibilities such as committee work and participating in committees?
Board self-evaluations are a valuable tool for every board of directors. Boards that commit to doing comprehensive evaluations will gain much insight into areas for improvement. Results may set the stage for amendments to bylaws, policies or protocols that effectively move the board’s work forward in the most effective, productive manner.