Although some boards of directors operate successfully at 30,000 feet, others seem to buzz the control tower looking for clearance to land. Fortunately, good volunteer leaders and smart professional staff can get a board out of the weeds of operational discussion and into high altitude quickly by creating not just an agenda, but a culture of strategic intent. Here are a few tips:
- Job Descriptions: You wouldn't take a job in your professional life without a job description - why take one in your volunteer life? Write job descriptions for standing board positions and committee chairs. They don't have to be long, but they need to include roles and responsibilities, frequency of meetings and anticipated time commitment. Review the job description and expectations with potential board nominees and use it as a template for interviewing candidates. Make it part of their responsibilities to revise the job description as they exit the position.
- Orientation: Once elected, put all board members through an orientation, new and current. Reinforce expectations about attendance, participation, roles, responsibilities and emphasize accountability. The board president and staff have the opportunity to set a tone and define what's important for the board to accomplish.
- Agenda: Use a strategically focused agenda. I've often used an agenda that is broken down by facets of my association's strategic plan, rather than a traditional, old business, new business, discussion, etc. agenda. This keeps board members focused on the mission of the organization and out of decisions on the color of the conference T-shirt. Moreover, allot time for each segment of the agenda. People will find a way to fill or conclude a discussion within the time allowed.
- Purpose: Define the main thrust of your meetings and the desired outcomes. Whether it's a conference call or a face-to-face board meeting, give directors and officers a reason for getting together.
- Committees/Task Forces: Put the detail work into committees. Your treasurer doesn't need 15 different opinions on the budget. Allow him or her to create a three to five person finance committee with responsibility for establishing a fiscally responsible budget to bring to the board for an up or down vote. Delegate non-strategic decisions to committees e.g. give the conference committee the power to choose the conference schwag.