A Message from our President
I just sat down at a conference table, waiting for a board meeting
(for which I am early) to begin. Looking around at the empty seats with
agendas sitting patiently for their readers, I am struck by how I am
looking forward to this meeting, rather than regretting the time away
from my desk. Thinking more about it, I realize my positive attitude
directly correlates to the energy, enthusiasm, and involvement of the
other members yet to arrive. Our discussions are always productive and
our time together is enjoyable. That hasn't always been the case with
other boards with which I have served, but it is for this one. And what a
difference that makes.
This month's article delves deeper into this phenomenon of meaningful discussions encouraging
positive energy which leads to valuable results. With just a bit of thought beforehand, board retreats and meetings can be events you look forward to, rather than regret the time spent.
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So, on this beautiful fall day, I wish you productive, pleasant conversations that help move your mission forward. Cheers!
President, Capability Company
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Article of the Month
Word count: 488
Approximate Reading Time: 4 Minutes
Talking it out at Board Retreats
by Sherry Heuser
Board Retreat: Two words that can make even smart, creative,
energetic people cringe. The date
is scheduled, the announcement is made, and the dread begins. Why? Are we expecting to rehash the same, stale topics? Battle it out over divisive issues? Suffer through forced team-building exercises that don't actually strengthen our team? Maybe. But it doesn't have to be that way.
Board retreats should be open conversations about the organization, the big picture discussions that set the tone, moving the board beyond the nitty gritty that occurs during regular board meetings. Committees can fill in the details and staff can implement plans, but the board must figure out what the organization will look and feel like.
This begins with how the board members communicate with and
relate to each other during the retreat.
Relaxed, comfortable individuals are more likely to join in the
discussion and respect their colleagues.
Are they able to share ideas without being judged or squelched? Do they feel at ease bringing up
concerns? Are they eager to
participate? Although agendas are
necessary to keeping everyone on track, having too tight a schedule or planning
the outcome before encouraging discussion can result in members feeling
railroaded into a decision or left out of the process altogether. Make sure the conversations about the
issues are the focus of the meeting, even if it means that final resolutions
are left for another day.
Knowing that a board made up of individuals from varied
backgrounds makes it stronger, these distinctions can make understanding each
other more challenging. Members do
not join boards for the same reasons, do not have the same expectations of
their role, and do not see the organization in the same way. Rather than create a manufactured
exercise to learn obscure information about other members, provide an
opportunity for members to share what is important to them about the
organization and why they are committed to it. The organization is the mutual connecting point in the diverse
group and the "team" is built through ongoing interactions, not in a game.
The goal is to keep the conversation moving forward in a
productive, respectful, helpful manner.
Board members can become "bored" members or resentful about how their
volunteer time is being used if the pace and design of the meeting doesn't
match the group. The logistics
should be tailored to the members attending and the organization's
circumstances. Offsite or
in-house? Meals, snacks, or
neither? Daytime, evening, or weekend? Outside facilitator or self-led? These decisions may seem extraneous,
but they play a part in setting the stage for meaningful interactions. If board members are distracted,
uncomfortable, or unable (or unwilling) to attend, the purpose of the retreat
When it comes down to it, the goal of a board retreat is for
the group to talk, listen, and think about the organization together. Encourage discussion and participation,
and be aware of roadblocks that detour productive conversation.
Bottom Line: Creating an environment and encouraging the opportunity to "talk it out" is the real purpose of a board retreat.
is president of Capability Company Consulting, a Raleigh, N.C.-based
firm supporting nonprofit organizations' searches for key hires.
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