Board and staff live in different micro-cultures, even as they share the mission and work of a particular organization. In our experience, there is a predictable pattern to the interactions between board and staff, especially around big meetings and retreats. One of the greatest challenges when the board and staff come together to do this joint work is managing the transitions into and out of the intense collaboration that any event represents.
We share some suggestions for staff to capitalize on opportunities for deepening the board-staff connection.
Before the meeting
1. Involve individual board members in agenda item selection and preparation.
2. In preparing materials, staff should steer between understaffing and overstaffing—what do board members need to know in advance to engage in a robust discussion? Are there particular questions that would help board members more productively interact with the prework readings or materials?
3. Staff should take as much care with the framing of issues as with the materials supporting an issue.
4.A powerful device for greater board engagement is to assign different materials to different board members.
In the meeting
1. When an item is presented, staff should err on the side of under-presenting versus over-presenting materials.
2. Staff should allow silent skimming of relevant materials and time for board members to collect their thoughts.
3. The chair of the meeting and staff should actively encourage conversation.
4. Use the one-minute essay. We use the one-minute essay at the end of a meeting to generate key things people have learned or heard and it gives people an opportunity to think about their thoughts.
After the meeting
1. Staff should assemble for an immediate debriefing.
2. Individual consideration should be given to board members and their interests.
3. Meetings and retreats can easily become “lost weekends” if there is not some follow-up back at the board member’s “real job.”
Boards can become partners with staff in thinking and acting in their organization’s best interest. Read more about board-staff dynamics and natural entry points for connection here. If you have any additional thoughts or would like to get in touch, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.