Invest “10 Minutes for Governance” in Every Board Meeting

We are all guilty of bringing our delightful dysfunctions into every new board experience.

 

by Dan Busby and John Pearson

 

Leadership is a complex field and no one resource
can meet all the needs of every leader in every situation.[1]

Richard Kriegbaum

 

During the same week I was writing this chapter, I helped facilitate a two-day learning experience for board members and CEOs from 11 nonprofit ministries. One board member—very astute, with excellent questions—cornered me at a coffee break.

“Whew! I have served on numerous boards,” he confessed, “but I had no idea—no idea!—how much more is involved in board governance. The literature. The resources. The various models of governance. In the first two hours of our sessions, I realized I have so much to learn!”

That’s a common response from board members who take the time to become better stewards of God’s work.

The typical boardroom includes a mix of new and long-term board members who bring their previous board experiences (or lack of experiences) into your boardroom. Every board member carries unhealthy baggage into your meeting that passed as normalcy in a previous boardroom.

We are all guilty of bringing our delightful dysfunctions into every new board experience:

  • Jennifer’s previous board was inundated with board reports, but not until the morning of the board meeting. She was lulled into believing that the last-minute deluge of documents was acceptable.
  • Enrique served on a board that rarely had a quorum present, so he tilts towards grace over policy.
  • Alex was shocked to find his current board spends most of its precious time in the management weeds, with nary a dashboard in sight. His previous board—thanks to dashboards— measured and monitored progress thoughtfully and quickly.

So how do you bring a diverse group of people together—and point them down the appropriate governance highway meeting after meeting after meeting?

The number of years served on boards may not be a good indicator of meaningful board experience. That’s why board members must be lifelong learners. That’s why many boards enhance the board member experience by featuring a “10 Minutes for Governance” segment in every meeting.

The big idea: In every board meeting, we want to remind board members that good governance does not happen by osmosis. It happens only with intentionality, training, and keeping critical governance topics (like focusing on policy, not operations) on everyone’s radar.

To get started, create a master list of possible topics (board policies, recruiting board members, understanding financial reports, ten basic responsibilities of nonprofit boards, the distinctives of Christ-centered governance, etc.). You might also find helpful topics using selected lessons from this book.

Here are some specific examples of “10 Minutes for Governance” topics I’ve observed in boardrooms:

  • “Balancing Board Roles—The Three Hats: Governance, Volunteer, and Participant.” One board showed the short video from the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series.[2]
  • “Ten Listening Guidelines to Improve Boardroom Communication.” This segment featured Ruth Haley Barton’s thoughts on “entering into and maintaining a listening posture that helps us hear and interact in ways that are most fruitful.”[3]
  • “Rules of the Road for Christlike Conflict Management.” Read this excellent two-page list in Best Practices for Effective Boards.[4]

Teachers often learn more than their students, so rotate the leadership of this segment. Give board members advance notice when asking them to prepare a presentation. Suggest that each ten-minute segment include at least four to five minutes of interaction and dialogue. Example: “In groups of two, read these 10 listening guidelines and identify the one guideline that is most difficult for you.” (Use a timer that buzzes at ten minutes.)

In addition to assigned reading prior to board retreats, and inspiring board members to read at least one governance book a year, you’ll discover that a “10 Minutes for Governance” segment at every meeting will keep Christ-centered governance on the front burner.

 

BOARDROOM LESSON
_______________________________

To get alignment with both new and longtime board members,
begin board meetings with a 10-minute segment on good governance.
You’ll have less conflict over competing governance models
and more joy as you pursue Christ-centered governance.

  Board Action Steps:

  1. Read: “An intelligent person is always eager to take in more truth, fools feed on fast-food fads and fancies” (Proverbs 15:14 MSG).
  2. Focus: Are board members inspired by the unique distinctives and benefits of Christ-centered governance versus secular governance models? Address that opportunity at least once a year in the “10 Minutes for Governance” segment.
  3. Evaluate: Are some conflicts between board members a result of differing opinions or experience on other boards? Address the elephant in the room!

 

Prayer

Lord, give us the right hearts and the right motivations to become more effective stewards in our governance roles and responsibilities.
Help us to be lifelong learners. Amen.

 

 

[1] Richard Kriegbaum, introduction to Steward Leader Meditations: Fifty Devotions for the Leadership Journey by R. Scott Rodin (Colbert, WA: Kingdom Life Publishing, 2016),13.

[2] ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 2: Balancing Board Roles—Understanding the 3 Board Hats: Governance, Volunteer, Participant (Winchester, VA: ECFAPress, 2013), https://www.ecfa.org/ProductDownload.aspx?ProductID=90

[3] Ruth Haley Barton, Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 207.

[4] E. LeBron Fairbanks, Dwight M. Gunter II, and James R. Couchenour, Best Practices for Effective Boards (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill, 2012), 178–179.
 

From Lessons From the Nonprfit Boardroom: 40 Insights for Better Board Meetings, 2018, www.ECFA.org/KnowledgeCenter.


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.

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