Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What Really Works In Building a Strong Board?

You may recall an on-line survey we promoted last fall for a board researcher named Mary Hiland, Ph.D of Hiland Associates in California. She appreciated the 30+ organizations who responded from Cincinnati and Indianapolis about both board turnarounds and boards that had shown growth to new levels of effectiveness. In total, she looked at 59 cases from organizations across a broad spectrum of budget and board size. Mary is still assembling the detailed analysis and report but wanted our readers to be among the first to receive her preliminary findings.

She found five dimensions that participants consistently identified in the way boards work:

· Alignment: Right people doing the right things with the right skills.
· Individual growth: Assisting each board member to be the best they can be.
· Team building: Fine tuning how the group works as a team.
· Maturity: The board's ability to understand the needs of the organization and their best roles as a collective group.
· Asset creation: The collaborative process by which boards reach their full potential to lead and add value to the organization in achievement of the mission.

The results reflected a continuum of board development, seemingly independent of the organizational life cycle:

1. Getting the basics right.
2. Improving overall board functioning; building board infrastructure.
3. Becoming more strategic.
4. Attracting investment, social capital(people and influence), and engaging with the community in powerful ways.

She found three critical success factors:

1. Outside governance expertise or training - a "nudge" - usually from a trainer/facilitator or a board member's attendance at outside training contributing to a new vision of the board.
2. The Board Chair - critical in creating (or inhibiting) movement and building momentum for change, in partnership with the Executive Director/CEO. The board chair usually engaged a few other board members, building a small group of champions for change.
3. Intention - Study participants described a specific, articulated intention to develop the board: "We were obsessed with board development." "Status quo was not OK."

What is a "Stronger Board"? The tangible improvements included changes in:

· Leadership - More leadership; better leaders.
· Interpersonal dynamics - Better, stronger relationships among the board members and with the Executive Director/CEO.
· Engagement - Increased attendance and participation. Better quality discussion, better preparation. More energy, momentum.
· Board functioning - better meetings, more ownership of the board's work, more effective committee work, and recognition that the board needs to work on itself - not just the organization.
· More strategic; Less involved in operations - Taking it to the next level.
· Composition: More diverse, better "quality" of board members
· Community engagement - Board members increased engagement with the external community, "got it" regarding fundraising, increased identification and use of board member's networks, and/or strengthened advocacy.

We look forward to learning more as she continues her work. You can find more about Mary Hiland at www.hiland-assoc.com.

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