Have you ever heard nonprofit leaders say that they had found people who matched their criteria for new board members but that, once they got on the board, they were not engaged or didn’t fulfill the basic expectations communicated when they were elected? Not a rare occurrence unfortunately! This is another example of how board culture influences board performance. An important element of board culture is the norms board members have about how to hold each other accountable. My experience is that most boards haven’t created explicit agreements about accountability. So, when there is a clear need to do something about a disengaged (at best) or disruptive (at worst) board member what happens? Avoidance, procrastination…..
The default is that board members look to the board chair to solve this. Sometimes that can work but an agreed-upon accountability process—developed by the board as a whole before having to deal with a specific individual—works so much better. I don’t mean that the board chair is not ultimately involved in implementing that process but it’s best when he/she is empowered by the entire board’s agreement on what the steps should be. It is also a good idea for the governance committee to define its role in the accountability process. This shares the burden among board members—and it is a burden. (The board doesn’t have a governance committee? Stay tuned!) No one wants to confront someone who is not fulfilling her commitments. To put a good accountability process in place, the board needs to carve out time on the agenda for the discussion, beginning with a question like: What should we do when one of us doesn’t meet his/her commitments? It can help if you have the luxury of having an outside facilitator assisting with this—maybe at a board retreat. But don’t put it off.
Is this ever a problem for you? Tell me your story! I’ll have an example for you next time.