The Productivity Payoff of Intentional Hospitality

Create hospitable and productive board environments.

 

by Dan Busby and John Pearson

 

Hospitality has to do with equity for each member.
Enabling each to feel authentic and needed
and worthwhile is an act of hospitality.
The way we provide for the needs of the group
in the physical setting is part of this. [1]

Max De Pree
 

 

Renowned CEO, author, and board consultant Max De Pree shares the story of an English visitor who watched his first American football game and observed, “The game combines the two worst elements of American culture—violence and committee meetings.”[2]

Fortunately, in our many years of board service and observing boards in action, violence has rarely been a part of the equation! However, when boards fail to take the time and effort to nurture a hospitable and productive environment in the boardroom, the higher calling of the board to Kingdom-oriented, mission-focused governance can naturally become lost. The result: a sea of committee jockeying, structural red tape, and operational overstepping.

Here’s what happens when intentional hospitality is minimized:

  • We know a CEO who, seeking to save money, had scheduled a board meeting at the ministry’s office—instead of a more conducive off-site environment. Unfortunately, the meeting had constant distractions and disappointments: phones ringing, “emergency” requests for the CEO, and piecemeal refreshments. Cheaper—yes. Effective—no.
  • At another ministry, Marianna was new to the board and relatively new to board service in general. The staff provided her the board materials in plenty of time, but in a completely different order from the way they were addressed in the agenda. She spent most of her first meeting flipping back and forth in an attempt to be on the same page (literally!) with the rest of the board.
  • And here’s another hospitality mishap! Even though Simeon had already served three years on the board, he’d never had a one-on-one conversation with the board chair—other than those awkward elevator conversations. Imagine! Consequently, the chair was unaware that Simeon’s wife had successfully battled cancer last year or that Simeon’s new book on leadership was arriving in a month. In fact, Simeon was deeply disappointed that neither the board chair nor the CEO had connected the dots between Simeon’s personal and professional life and his board service.
  • Here’s one more example—void of intentional hospitality. At this board meeting, the agenda was jam-packed, but the board chair and the CEO inappropriately crowded the first hours with routine business. Yawn! Thus, the most critical agenda topics were crammed into the final hour—just before dinner. You’ve seen this before at ill-planned board meetings—the deer in the headlights look! So how can the CEO and board chair nurture an environment of hospitality that leads to productive, meaningful, and impactful governance? The spiritual gift of hospitality, according to author Bruce Bugbee, is “the divine enablement to care for people by providing fellowship, food, and shelter.”[3] It is important to discern who on your board or staff is specially enabled by God to practice hospitality—and invite that person to help you create a warm and inviting board meeting environment.

Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board by Max De Pree offers a plethora of gems for creating an ideal boardroom environment. Here are six practical takeaways:

  1. Design the agenda on the bell curve. “I have found it very helpful to think about designing an agenda by following the lines of a bell curve,” says De Pree. He adds, “At the top of the curve (that’s my shorthand for the way energy at board meetings starts out slowly, then rises, then declines) for regular board meetings we will want to focus on the future and plan time to be thorough.”[4]

Keeping critical agenda items in the high energy part of the meeting ensures meaningful engagement. This includes topics such as significant issues, vexing problems, and key appointments. De Pree also emphasizes the need to prioritize time to dream, time to strategize for the future, and we would add, always give top billing to prayer.

 

The Bell Curve of a Board Meeting
 

  1. Nurture strong personal relationships. De Pree writes, “Many people seem to feel that a good board structure enables high performance. This is simply not so. What’s crucial is the quality of our personal relationships. The [board chair] and the [CEO] set the tone for good relationships, but it is up to every individual on the board to develop, nurture, and polish good relationships. While we want to do a good job of structuring the board’s work, good working relationships are more important.”[5]
  2. Work seriously at the growth, needs, and potential of board members. “The environment we create for growth and potential, as well as the satisfactions that come from doing good work well, motivate good people to work for love. I have always thought about board members as perpetual volunteers. The best of them are like lifetime free agents.” De Pree continues: “Because the best board members have many opportunities and choices, the organization and its leaders develop programs for the care and feeding of these vital volunteers. They are provided good orientation and lucid, succinct information. There are ways for them to understand and become intimate with the work of the organization.”[6]
  3. Work seriously at the growth, needs, and potential of the CEO. Christ-centered boards should inspire their CEOs to thrive by providing an adequate budget and time for personal and professional growth. This includes giving the CEO “space” to be creative in his or her role, while also helping him or her to set priorities.[7] When the board cares about the CEO’s growth—and the CEO cares about the growth of team members—there will be a direct relationship between personal growth and organizational growth.
  4. Say “thank you creatively.” De Pree describes a creative thank you gift given to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the seven-foot, two-inch pro basketball player, during his last season with the Los Angeles Lakers. “In Dallas, a businessman presented a gift to Kareem and had obviously thought about saying thank you. He had a special table built, higher than usual, on which to place the gift for Kareem. The businessman observed that you shouldn’t ever make a person stoop to receive a gift. Now I think that is a marvelous lesson, isn’t it?”[8]

How does your board thank people? Do you consider the recipient’s “love language?”

  1. Carry on Max De Pree’s legacy of being a servant. Max De Pree was called home to his Savior in August 2017. De Pree left a legacy of vast knowledge and wisdom about leadership and management, always emphasizing putting people first. Arguably one of De Pree’s most lasting messages is one highlighted by Fuller Seminary (where he served as board chair) in its tribute to De Pree: “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The second is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor.”[9]

In our book Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, we introduced the concept of taking “10 Minutes for Governance” in every meeting—to remind board members that good governance does not happen by osmosis (Lesson 39).[10] We suggest you invest 10 minutes for governance at your next meeting to think more intentionally about boardroom hospitality. Our prediction: if you approach the topic with God-honoring humility and servanthood, you’ll see an immediate payoff in board meeting productivity.

 

BOARDROOM LESSON
_______________________________

Highly effective boards do not leave the boardroom environment
to its own natural devices and distractions.
Instead, the best boards intentionally nurture hospitality
which enhances productivity.
 

  Board Action Steps:

  1. Assign: Give each board member a copy of Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board by Max De Pree. Assignment: bring one idea to the next meeting for nurturing the boardroom environment.

  2. Analyze: Give some thought to the energy and focus level of your board meetings. Do they fit the “bell curve” pattern? Maximize your agenda to place critical items, including prayer, into the high energy segments of the meeting.

  3. Appoint: Who on your staff or board has the spiritual gift of hospitality? Invite that person to help you create a more hospitable and productive environment for your board meetings.

  4. Anticipate: Expect that not every board member will read De Pree’s book (even though it is just 91 pages!). So email everyone the link to the index of 30 short blogs highlighting 30 key topics from Called to Serve.[11] Visit: http://ecfagovernance.blogspot.com/2017/10/called-to-serve-no-board-detail-is-too.html.
     

 

Prayer

Lord, help us to be intentional in the environment
we create for our board. May we be hospitable,
welcoming, and nurturing so that the board works effectively
for Your purposes and Your glory. Amen.
 

 

 

 

[1] Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2001), 69.

[2] Ibid., 3.

[3] Bruce Bugbee, What You Do Best in the Body of Christ: Discover Your Spiritual Gifts, Personal Style, and God-Given Passion, rev. and exp. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 50.

[4] De Pree, Called to Serve, 26.

[5] Ibid., 11-12.

[6] Ibid., 18-19.

[7] Ibid., 85-87.

[8] Ibid., 22.

[9] Max De Pree, Leadership Is an Art (New York: Random House, 2014), 11.

[10] Dan Busby and John Pearson, Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom: 40 Insights for Better Board Meetings, 2nd Ed. (Winchester, VA: ECFAPress, 2018), 202–206.

[11] John Pearson, “Called to Serve: No Board Detail Is Too Small (Index to 30 Blogs),” October 9, 2017, http://ecfagovernance.blogspot.com/2017/10/called-to-serve-no-board-detail-is-too.html.

 

From More Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom: Effectiveness, Excellence, Elephants!, 2019, 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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