Friday, June 29, 2012

The “Quieter” Pool of Board Members

My wife and I enjoy a week of R&R every year in the California desert.  Our favorite destination has two pools: 1) the noisy and very active family pool, and 2) the “Quiet Pool.”

This year, however, the “Quiet Pool” sign had been replaced by a new sign, “Quieter Pool.” (Apparently, the resort couldn’t guarantee total “quiet” and so a staff committee must have brainstormed and posted the new normal!)

Many boards have three types of people in their board pools:
   1) Noisy
   2) Quiet
   3) Quieter

None are really helpful to Christ-centered governance—so I encourage board chairs and CEOs to be very intentional in fostering appropriate discussion at board meetings. 

Thoughtful board chairs leverage boardroom tools to create helpful dialogue. Here are several ideas:

The First 45-Minutes Rule.  Within the first 45 minutes of a board meeting, create an environment where every board member shares something. 
1) Ask a question and divide into groups of two or three board members each—so everyone can share an opinion at the top of the meeting.
2) Pose a question and then ask each person (around-the-table) to answer the question in one minute or less (use the timer on your iPhone). It might be: “Give us some good news about your personal life.” Or, “What is one thing about this ministry that gives you great joy?”

Delegate Your Reading. In preparation for a recent board retreat, we pre-assigned the seven chapters from Jim Collins’ latest book, Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck—Why Some Thrive Despite Them All. We all read the entire book, but seven people each shared 10-minute chapter reviews.  In 70 minutes, we had mastered the content of the book—and discussed the implications for this ministry. 

This format gave our “quiet” and “quieter” board members an uninterrupted 10-minutes of air time to showcase their God-given insights. It was powerful!

It’s a crime to conclude a board meeting and, after the fact, note that some board members did not contribute to the discussion. You can fix that with creativity and intentionality.

Question: What methods do you leverage to tone down your noisy board members and encourage your quieter board members to speak up?


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Board Warts

Patrick Lencioni’s latest book, while written for senior teams, has much to say to board teams about the “soft side” of governance—relationships. Christ-centered board members must be competent at this, but it’s a journey, isn’t it?

In his book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, Lencioni writes, “The only way for teams to build real trust is for team members to come clean about who they are, warts and all.”

He adds that “bad meetings are the birthplace of unhealthy organizations and good meetings are the origin of cohesion, clarity and communication.

“If someone were to offer me one single piece of evidence to evaluate the health of an organization, I would not ask to see its financial statements, review its product line, or even talk to its employees or customers: I would want to observe the leadership team during a meeting.”

Ditto a board meeting! 

The book highlights five principles that every team [and board] must embrace. Lencioni’s behavioral pyramid (top to bottom) includes:

This may well be my top pick for “2012 Book-of-the-Year.” It’s that important and helpful. (Read my book review.)

Question: What are you doing—in every board meeting—to build God-honoring trust, conflict (the good kind!), commitment, accountability and results?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Two Prayers and a Poem Are Not Enough!

If we’re not intentional, Christ-centered governance may often look and taste like most secular governance models with one exception: you’ll drop in a prayer at the beginning and the end of the meeting; and maybe throw in a devotional thought or poem. Then…presto…it’s “Christian governance.” Not really.

Recently, I facilitated board retreats in two different states. At one retreat, a short inspirational video was played that helped board members transition from the travel hassles of arriving at the meeting…to the holy calling of being board members/stewards of the ministry. The video helped set the tone for the day.

At another retreat, a board member shared an inspirational two-page presentation that—in my opinion—will be the catalyst for a major fork-in-the-road decision about the organization’s mission and future.

In this case, the board member had clearly taken time to hear from God—to discern what God was saying to him and the board. Then he wrote his presentation (two pages, typed), rehearsed it, and with a Holy Spirit-empowered conviction and a stunning use of Scripture, inspired the board to think bigger about their kingdom calling.

At the end of the two-day retreat, as each board member shared his or her “One Big Take-Away,” many board members mentioned the devotional presentation as the highlight of the board retreat.

As I reflected on this extraordinary retreat, here’s what I observed:
1) A board member took his role seriously. He prayed and he prepared.
2) The “devotional” was specific. Why are we here? What is God calling us to be and to do? (There was no generic good-enough-for-the-board stuff off the Internet.)
3) Other board members listened—both to him and to God.

Think back over your last few board meetings. Can you remember what anyone shared or prayed about? Elton Trueblood said, “Pious shoddy is still shoddy.”

Question: How will you raise the significance of the devotional thoughts at your board meetings and retreats?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Getting Your Board Through the Wilderness

Nonprofit ministry and church boards are always facing changes—planned or unplanned (the economy, CEO transitions, shifting loyalties of donors and much more). Yet I’m sensing that none of us invest enough time in discerning how to prepare for changes. 

So I was reminded this week of the succinct wisdom and practical next steps in the classic bestseller by William Bridges, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change.

He writes, “Imagine that the change [you’re planning] is a cue ball rolling across the surface of a pool table. There are lots of other balls on the table, and it’s going to hit a few of them, some because you planned it that way and some unintentionally.  Try to foresee as many of those hits as you can.”

One of my favorite seminary profs once told our class, “We’re nonprofit, but we didn’t plan it that way.”

When this book was first published in 1991, it was recognized as the definitive guide to dealing with change. Now one million copies later—it still holds that position.  If it’s not on your board’s reading list, it needs to be.

Bridges writes, “It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions.  Change is not the same as transition. Change is situational: the new site, the new boss, the new team roles, the new policy. Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation.  Change is external, transition is internal.”

Change is a given—but how thoughtful board members and CEOs handle the psychological impact of transitions requires both understanding the problem and understanding and executing three critical steps.  

In Step 1, you must understand that transition begins with letting go of something. (Do your board members resist term limits or do they spiritually embrace them?)

In Step 2, you enter the neutral zone (the no man’s land between the old reality and the new).  Some will abort in this zone, not wanting the pain. But it’s also the place where creativity, renewal and development will often occur.  “The neutral zone is thus a dangerous and opportune place, and it is the very core of the transition process.”  (What is God saying here?)

Step 3 is the new beginning, but it’s often torpedoed because leaders don’t mark an appropriate end to the neutral zone (or skip it altogether). The new beginning can only be effective when your board goes through the first two steps.

How much training have your board members had on the psychological effects of change and transitions? Would you invest two to three hours to read a book or listen to an audio book on “Managing Transitions?” Before you announce the next big change in your board or organization (like moving to a new governance model), read the book!

Note: To download a 21-page article (PDF), “Getting Them Through the Wilderness,” by William Bridges, describing how Moses transitioned the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land, click here.

QUESTION: Think back over some of the more significant changes your board has made in the last 18 months.  How did those changes affect you: physically, emotionally and spiritually?  Were you surprised at the effects of those changes?