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Solving the Board Development Puzzle: the What and the Why  

March 25, 2021 0 Comments

The half-day Zoom governance workshop I presented a couple of weeks ago for 25-some CEOs of a diverse array of transit authorities included a segment on board development.  Early in my career I would  have been a trifle worried that the topic might be ho-hum for some of the more seasoned  CEOs, but I soon learned I needn’t have been concerned.   Since much of the terrain we covered in the workshop turned  out to be refreshingly new to the great majority of my participants,  I think readers of this blog will be interested  in the key points  that came up during what turned  out to be a pretty robust discussion.

I opened this 90-minute segment by asking three questions:  1. What exactly do we mean by “board  development”?  2. Why should I, as my organization’s CEO, play the role of “Board Developer-in-Chief”?  3. How can I go about spearheading my board’s development?  I’ll deal with the What and Why questions in this week’s post, and  next week I’ll share important points from our How discussion.

Workshop participants were intrigued by my suggesting – by way of introducing our discussion of the What – that board development should be seen as a very special kind of organizational development.  The fact is, a board is essentially an organization:  a group of people engaged through formally established, permanent structure and processes in carrying out a common mission:  to govern the mother transit organization the board is part of.   We fairly quickly moved on to create a list of the organizational elements we need to develop so the board is capable of doing an effective job of governing.  For example, we identified and discussed such elements as the board’s detailed role and functions; developing board members’ governing knowledge and skills; the board’s committee structure; and  the detailed processes for engaging board members in key functions like strategic and operational planning and annual budget development.

It was the Why question that got everyone in our virtual room really revved up.  I kicked off this discussion by suggesting that every board and its chief executive face a stark choice:  merely inherit the board of yesterday, or systematically develop the board’s organizational capacity to deal with today’s and tomorrow’s challenges.   We used the remaining time discussing why the CEO has no choice but to play the role of “Board Developer-in-Chief,” responsible for spearheading board development.  The case I made, which so far as I could tell the majority of participants thought made the best of sense, went like this:  1. Satisfied board members make for more dependable CEO partners. 2. Satisfaction comes from active engagement in making high-impact governing decisions.  3. A fully developed board is more capable of doing high-impact governing work that that makes a significant difference in organizational affairs.  4. Boards tend not to be self-developing organizations, principally because board members typically have neither the time nor the expertise to spearhead board development.  5. And the clincher: dissatisfied board  members almost always  take out their frustration on the CEO, who consequently has every reason to play the Board Developer-in-Chief role with gusto.

Next up:  key points from our discussion of the How question.

Doug Eadie