Are You Investing In Your Board?
The beginning of a new year is a good time to be thinking not only about the board’s work plan for the year but about its continuing professional development. Most cities have a multitude of governance related training courses that may be accessed and attended by individuals. There is often greater value for the board, however, if professional development opportunities can be enjoyed by the whole board at the same time. Even for boards of highly experienced professional directors a range of benefits is available. The benefit is usually even greater for boards with relatively inexperienced, volunteer members. Think about what your board might gain from undertaking some shared professional development this year.
- Increased consciousness of the importance of good governance. Many boards just drift along without a clear sense of what is expected of them. A governance workshop is an opportunity to pause and reflect on how vital it is that a board should be competent and successful at governing the organisation. Understanding the primacy of the governance role is especially important where board members may need to take on additional responsibilities, for example, as volunteers helping in the work of the organisation.
- Improved board teamwork. One of the main challenges of governance is improving teamwork amongst a group responsible for collective decision-making but whose members only meet infrequently. A governance workshop provides an opportunity for board members to get to know each other better. They are assisted to examine how they work together, exploring assumptions and expectations which might never otherwise be given voice.
- A deeper, collective agreement about how the board could and should function. The way many boards operate to deliver on their leadership and stewardship responsibilities is a reflection of patterns of work established in the distant past. It is possible your board already undertakes a regular review of its effectiveness (and efficiency). If not, it would find a governance workshop a valuable and productive way of exploring members’ assessments of the way the board currently operates. The type of enhancement initiatives that usually arise from these discussions can revolutionise the way a board operates. As a consequence the board is able to be more effective in advancing the mission of organisation. The experience of serving on the board can also become more satisfying for all involved.
- An opportunity for sharing experience and for group learning. Even when some members of a board feel they are fully competent there will be other members who are less experienced, less skilled and less confident. Regardless of who is facilitating a governance workshop, the occasion creates an opportunity for board members to teach and learn from each other. This further enhances internal relationships and teamwork.
- Improved board/management relationships. A governance workshop that includes both board and management provides an opportunity to explore mutual expectations. It will also underline the important ingredients in an effective and complementary collaboration between board and management.
- A comparison with best practice governance in comparable organisations. Try to find a full-time governance effectiveness professional to help you in conducting your workshop. He/she should be able to bring to the workshop a good knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of governance as practiced in other, comparable organisations. This will give your board an opportunity to benchmark itself informally against the best practice’ in other organisations.
- Transferable ideas and benefits. In not-for-profit organisations, providing a professional development opportunity for board members is one way that the organisation can give something back to this important group of volunteers. After governance workshops participants frequently tell us how impatient they are to apply what they have learned or thought about during the workshop to some other organisation or situation they are involved with.
To increase the chance of realising these benefits you should look for professional development opportunities that will be delivered specifically to a brief reflecting your board’s particular needs. A board effectiveness review that may have identified particular development needs and opportunities is a great starting point.
Workshop content for boards should be delivered in an interactive manner that reflects adult learning styles, works on the board’s own data generated during the workshop, and increases the opportunities for your members to learn from each other. Ideally, workshops should also be designed to accomplish part of the board’s work plan at the same time. For example, we are often asked to deliver professional development opportunities that focus on helping a board become ‘more strategic’. By describing and illustrating particular concepts it is a relatively easy next step to have the board get into ‘strategic thinking’ mode and learn by doing (or at least starting) the work that needs to be done anyway.
Investing in continuing professional development – can you afford not to?