Four Signs Your Board Needs a Tune Up

May 24, 2024Nonprofits

Ann Quinn, CEO Quinn Strategy Group

Ann Quinn advises nonprofits and privately held companies that are facing the challenges of developing and implementing an organizational strategy, building organizational capacity, and navigating organizational transitions. Ann brings real-world experience and a pragmatic process to guide organizations as they understand where they are, where they want to go and how to get there. Her
proven strategic process helps clients navigate the opportunities and challenges that can either accelerate or derail success.

When boards work well, they help organizations maintain focus and drive results by providing advice, energy, and resources.

When boards don’t work well, they kill momentum around the mission, alienate management and board members and waste resources.

I’ve spent a ton of time in boardrooms with my clients. I’ve also been a board member, a board chair and reported to a board. These experiences have been largely positive and rewarding.

However, I’m often engaged as a strategic advisor to help boards that are not working well achieve high performance. Through that experience, I’ve learned to recognize when a board is going off track.

Here are four warning signs your board needs a tune up before it can perform at the level your organization needs and deserves:

#1. Decision Making Is Cumbersome

Boards have to work intentionally to create opportunities for all board members to have influence and input on the most important decisions. All too often, the executive committee or tenured board members hold sway over the discussion. If it feels cumbersome to involve the full board in critical decisions, your board may be too large or lacking structures that encourage meaningful conversation.

#2. Decision-Making Authority Is Unclear Or Unspoken

When it’s unclear who makes the decision – board or management – discussions can wander aimlessly or become contentious. When decision-making authority is clear, it frames discussions in a way that enables all stakeholders to provide proper guidance and perspectives. This improves effectiveness, builds trust and creates mutual understanding.

#3. More Listening Than Talking

Too often management over-manages and scripts board meetings. In fact, some board meetings are nothing more than a series of presentations or board members listening to management read materials aloud. This is a grave waste of everyone’s time. Opportunities to debate and discuss are one of the ways board members build trust and understanding. If you deprive them of these opportunities, performance will suffer.

#4. No Looking In The Mirror

A good self-assessment process – one in which board members can be candid about board communication and performance – is essential for helping boards learn and improve. Yet many boards rarely (if ever) engage in self-assessment. There’s no way to maximally support the board’s work without a clear sense of where board members stand on these matters.

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