Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Creating A Connected Culture On Your Volunteer Board

I have served on several non-profit boards, including taking on the role of president on a few occasions. Being on a volunteer board is a great way to give back to your community or industry, and will always expose finding ways to learn and grow while impacting others. It is also a fast way to expand your network and establish your position as a leader. However, it can also be riddled with headaches.

Serving on a board can bring with it the difficulties of having to interact with other people and getting caught up in the politics that often seem to occur when passionate people get together to implement change.

Everyone joins a board with good intentions, but when a meeting runs long and you are sitting across the table from someone with an opposing plan for the future direction of the organization, it is easy to forget the positive reasons for which you both signed up. Tempers can flare, and that can create conflict.

It is always better for the whole when board members can spend time together outside of meetings. Getting to know each other on a deeper level is key to the culture of the board. It is human nature to prejudge others, so when you only see the rest of your board at an occasional formal meeting, you will never understand what is in the soul of those with whom you serve.

In order for a board to work well together there must be a combination of good leadership and a culture of connectedness. While having a diverse board with differing points of view is a good thing, it can also bring with it arguments and sideline the progress. While there is always room for disagreement, there is never room for power-plays and disrespect. Having groups that knows and cares for each other will help prevent much of the petty clashing of the titans that often happens.

Respect is key, but each person must also remember that they must understand and respect the other people too. One person cannot demand all the respect in the room, or the whole relationship economy of the board will crumble.

I was once in an organization that was caught up in a tsunami of change. The changes were inevitable and for the betterment of the organization, but the senior board members and the newer board members forgot to respect the point of view of the other side. They did not have any type of personal relationship, and both distrusted the motivations of the other side. This brought with it all the dysfunction imaginable.

A new board member was running for a leadership position and began to demand his "due" respect from the rest of the organization. Suddenly a wise member who had not chosen sides reminded the whole group that one cannot demand respect, one must earn it. These sage words ended the debate and the new maverick board member was not elected this time around. He instead worked hard to support the whole team and later earned the right to lead the organization.

I have never forgotten the importance of those words about earning respect. I work to remind those who serve in any volunteer capacity to work to earn the respect of the others on their committee or board before seeking the opportunity to lead. When people work to cultivate relationships with others they are creating the foundations for long term success (for themselves and the organization as a whole).

Members need to be reminded of why they are all serving. Nobody would admit they joined a board for the power and prestige (although for some that might be a reason!), thus the mission and goals of the group must be publicly stated often. Out of sight is out of mind. Beginning a meeting with a reminder of the greater good will help all participants check their egos and personal agendas at the door.

If you are part of a volunteer board, make sure that the members have time to socialize and establish real connections. Communicate the purpose of the board and the organization regularly to not let it be forgotten. Encourage respectful discussion, even when there is disagreement. If the culture is one of understanding and respect your whole organization will succeed.

Have A Great Day.


1 comment:

Eugene Sepulveda said...

true, true and the board leader ought to determine what's the extra "in-it-for-them" for every participant. You are right, most members are on boards for generous, selfless reasons. Nevertheless, to prioritize this volunteer activity, to maintain excellent participation after someone's put in a full day at work and all responsibilities of home, helps if the leader can be mindful of the extra wins that'll make participation even more valuable for the individual members