Called to Serve: What's More Important Than Structure?

By John Pearson

Note: This is No. 10 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.

Max De Pree: "Structure is important, but what is much more important--in fact, critical--is the willingness and ability of the people involved to establish and maintain amiable and productive relationships."

Amen! Years back, I remember my shock (and that's not too strong of a word) when two long-serving members of a small board were chatting before the board meeting began. "Remind me again," one board member asked of the other board member, "what company do you work for?"

By then, this small board should have known each other intimately, and as often happens on great boards, they would have become great friends by this time. It wasn't happening.

At another board retreat, a too-busy board member pushed back (no subtlety), on the best practice that knowing the strengths, social style (driving, analytical, amiable, or expressive), and spiritual gifts of each board member would enhance the board's relationships and thereby its productivity.

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld's excellent Harvard Business Review article, "What Makes Great Boards Great," will inspire your board. The author lists all the ill-informed views of board effectiveness and then says this:

“The key isn’t structural, it’s social.”

He adds, “The most involved diligent value-adding boards may or may not follow every recommendation in the good-governance handbook. What distinguishes exemplary boards is that they are robust, effective social systems."

If your board chair and/or CEO are not relationally focused (the literature says only about half the population is), then appoint a board member who is--to help you ensure that structure doesn't trump relationships.

BOARDROOM EXERCISE: Discuss the theological values that undergird your ministry--and assess if the relational values of the Good News are alive and well in your boardroom and in your 24/7 year-round board culture.


This article was originally posted on the “Governance of Christ-Centered Organizations” blog, hosted by ECFA.
John Pearson, a board governance consultant and author, was ECFA’s governance blogger from 2011 to 2020.
© 2021, ECFA and John Pearson. All rights reserved.

This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.