The constant evolution of the boardroom experience is one which every industry is experiencing. The transparency and rapid transfer of information allow for higher knowledge coming into the boardroom and a more transparent level of discussion. What is it that makes for an industry board that empowers members and hits all the right targets while executing within budget?
The boardroom experience need not be boring or redundant. It can be a fascinating journey with diverse individuals pulling in the same direction from different viewpoints. It is up to the individual board member to choose to contribute to a board or committee that aligns with their core values and beliefs and to be accountable at all times. It is up to leadership to create a platform for discussion. It is up to staff to execute the directive of the board and not to be micromanaged by it. And it is the responsibility of all to engage in ongoing dialogue and reporting.
Often industry boards are seen as battlegrounds to protect the status quo or impose a personal agenda rather than fostering an environment for growth and service. As a new board member you may wish to know what to look for. What are a few of the characteristics of a functional board? It starts with asking the fundamental questions prior to commitment beginning with: what is the mandate of the board? If that cannot be clearly articulated then there is a risk of feeling lost at sea at the table. There must be a reason for the existence of that board that is clear, measurable and accountable.
What is the governance structure of the board? Governance is a broad term that embodies the interactions of decision-making and the tiers of authority and execution. For example how does a collectively recommended action become executed and by whom? Small plays in governance make for big changes and can be as simple as agenda construction to radiate the needs of the board members and ensure their comfort regarding times allotted for discussion. This is important because if the board is presented actions already in play that do not have board approval then the tail is wagging the dog. The board itself does not have a function and the governance model is upside down.
What are the roles and responsibilities of the board member and how do they support the mandate of the board and the vision of the stakeholder? New board members should ask for and receive a complete orientation package and a briefing that clearly defines the mandate and purpose of the board and the roles and responsibilities of the members. This is for all boards of all sizes and for all purposes.
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Along with the value of expertise and a desire to serve, the board member commits to a great attitude and to affirm the best in their fellow members. Ego is parked with the car. The goal is servitude toward a higher good expressed as a common objective. As one size does not fit all you may have to ask for what you need to serve well. If you cannot hear — then ask for a microphone or for your fellow members to speak up. Need a break or a special diet, more complete board packages, further information or a meeting with staff or the chair to clarify a detail? — ask.
When internal barriers block the ability of the board member to fully function they should be immediately addressed. The ongoing tolerance of this only leads to frustration and an ineffective board. Take the example of board packages. The entire meeting may be fruitless if board packages are incomplete or delivered too close to the meeting date. Having resolutions of importance worded and included in the package helps board members to understand what they may be voting on in advance. Templates that measure the past success on a topic are important to visualize complex situations. Even seemingly trivial items such as dress code for board functions are important to the smooth workings of the board.
How questions are expressed is important to keep engagement at a high level and to boost moral. Questions are about the issue or item and not the person. One might ask, “Jane, thank you for your report, may I have more clarification on the number of cattle in quarantine referred to in this report?” rather than stating, “This report is not complete because Jane did not supply the numbers I need.” As representatives of our constituents we are ever polite and eloquently brief.
When on a board and it seems like too much work, too much time commitment or too much repetitive discussion then there is a failure in the design and a lack of leadership to provide the platform for open discussion. Functional design respects details in purpose, governance, diversity, leadership, roles and responsibilities and empowers board members.
The problem is the solution and a failure creates an opportunity to work collectively to design a structure that assures results. The exercise of determining board mandate and assessing the skills required while constantly mirroring the vision of the stakeholder creates value. And at the end of the day, board members want to feel that their time has been of value to their industry and community. It is a fascinating experience, a revelation, to be on the team of a highly functional board. Great experiences lead to strong comradery between board members and assure staff that the board is supportive of their work. Most importantly it fosters growth in individuals, communities, companies and industry.