Steward Leaders: Governing through a Working Board with Staff

Posted by Matthew Thomas

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matthew-thomas-2Today we look at the second in our series of posts on a variety of styles and types of boards and committees often found in nonprofits and religious institutions. In this series, we will look at four common types, and one variation on a type:

 

  • All-volunteer working board
  • Working board with staff
  • Multiple working boards with staff system
  • Advisory board
  • Governing board

 

Last week, we looked at the All-Volunteer Working Board.

 

While these are not the only structures out there, they are very common and most likely to be encountered by steward leaders who engage with the organizations they govern. As leaders who want to “do good while doing well,” steward leaders can benefit from a deeper understanding of the different types of common governing structures.

 

In this series, we will use the term board throughout for clarity. Nevertheless, we acknowledge that many names are often in play (particularly committee), but other, more institution- or industry-specific names are prolific.

 

Boards, to one degree or another, represent the organization to its members, stakeholders, constituents, and to the State. They are designed to make decisions on behalf of the organization, to the degree permitted by the articles of organization and/or bylaws, constitution, operating agreements, the laws of the organization's state or country, or other constitutive documents.

 

Today's board is the Working Board with Staff. We will look at its variant, the multiple working board with staff system, in a later post.

 

Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now! Key Characteristics of a Working Board with Staff:

 

  • Task oriented
  • Hires staff person(s) to increase the organization's operating capacity
  • Staff has specific portfolio requiring time and/or expertise beyond volunteers' capacity; volunteers have other tasks and govern and guide organization

 

The Working Board with Staff is a good design for:

 

  • Small organizations with clearly-defined task roles requiring ongoing time and expertise beyond board meetings
  • Organizations with strong coordination and governance within board and strong work ethic of volunteers
  • Organizations designed to be run by volunteers who do the work, assisted by hired staff
  • Organizations with growing capacity
  • Organizations needing more accountability than a non-staff working board can manage

 

The Working Board with Staff is a poor design for:

 

  • Large organizations
  • Multi-staff settings
  • Organizations where governance beyond management of status quo is required
  • Organizations where mission / vision is not clearly defined (or bought into by all)
  • Organizations where board members are not clear peers or equals
  • Organizations that are changing in size or scope

 

Financial Roles Get the map!

Pitfalls of a Working Board with Staff:

 

  • Growing passivity of volunteers
  • Unclear accountability if individual members can make requests of staff
  • Completely conflated governance and execution of work

 

Typical examples:

 

  • Small nonprofits
  • Small, single-staff churches or other religious institutions
  • Associations or Federations with a staff person representing the whole

 

This board is most closely analogous to a partnership board in a business or corporate setting who have hired a staff person or persons to manage day-to-day operations outside the basic purview or portfolio of the partners themselves.

 

Design Group International has compiled a resource outlining all five governance types in this series. Get the e-book today by clicking the button below.

Get the   Five Types of Governance   resource today!

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Topics: steward leaders, Matthew Thomas, steward leader, Organziational Governance, steward leadership

Steward Leaders: Governing with an All-Volunteer, Working board

Posted by Matthew Thomas

Subscribe to  Sustainable Vision

Today begins a series of posts on a variety of styles and types of boards and committees often found in nonprofits and religious institutions. In this series, we will look at four common types, and one variation on a type:

 

  • All-volunteer working board
  • Working board with staff
  • Multiple working boards with staff system
  • Advisory board
  • Governing board

 

matthew-thomas-2While these are not the only structures out there, they are very common and most likely to be encountered by steward leaders who engage with the organizations they govern. As leaders who want to “do good while doing well,” steward leaders can benefit from a deeper understanding of the different types of common governing structures.

 

In this series, we will use the term board throughout for clarity. Nevertheless, we acknowledge that many names are often in play (particularly committee), but other, more institution- or industry-specific names are prolific.

 

Boards, to one degree or another, represent the organization to its members, stakeholders, constituents, and to the State. They are designed to make decisions on behalf of the organization, to the degree permitted by the articles of organization and/or bylaws, constitution, operating agreements, the laws of the organization's state or country, or other constitutive documents.

 

Today's board is the All-Volunteer Working Board.

 

Key Characteristics:

 

  • Task-oriented
  • High involvement of board members in doing the organization's work
  • Hands-on
  • Smaller organizations, smaller boards: larger working boards either see people dropping out of participation, or see sub-groups form, or require more centralized coordination.

 

Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now! The All-Volunteer Working Board is a good design for:

 

  • Very small organizations with no staff
  • Startups at the organizational prenatal phase prior to true launch
  • Organizations designed to be run by a small group of volunteers who do all the work
  • Representative entities constituted by leaders of subordinate entities holding equal authority

 

The All-Volunteer Working Board is a poor design for:

 

  • Large organizations
  • Complex organizations
  • Organizations where governance beyond management of status quo is required
  • Organizations where mission / vision is not clearly defined (or bought into by all)
  • Organizations where board members are not clear peers or equals
  • Organizations that are changing in size or scope
  • Organizations that require high accountability for completed work

 

Financial Roles Get the map!

 

Pitfalls of the All-Volunteer Working Board:

 

  • With a spectrum of involvement, resentments can grow between members
  • Strong personalities or members with more time or money to devote to the work can dominate
  • Low accountability since all are volunteers
  • Scope of organizational work limited to volunteers' capacity in time, money, commitment
  • If the board represents a membership organization, it can be effectively self-perpetuating even if that is not the intent.

 

Typical examples:

 

  • Small cause-based nonprofits
  • Nonprofits in a startup phase
  • Associational or Federation boards representing small constituent organizations

 

This board is most closely analogous to a partnership board in a business or corporate setting. The key difference is that the business setting typically has an operating partnership agreement to hold members accountable. 

 

Design Group International has compiled a resource outlining all five governance types in this series. Get the e-book today by clicking the button below.

Get the   Five Types of Governance   resource today!

.
Read More ›

Topics: steward leaders, Matthew Thomas, steward leader, Organziational Governance, steward leadership

Organizational Health: The Struggle with Accountability

Posted by Matthew Thomas

One of the greatest struggles in organizational life is accountability: accountability between boards and executives, bosses to their subordinates, team members within the scope of their project, government oversight or regulation, legal compliance. In the non-profit world, one could add accountability relative to donors and volunteers – an accountability that flows in both directions.

matthew-thomas-2Groups often struggle with accountability because it is often implemented heavy-handedly or only in the most extreme circumstances, long after all amicable options are no longer available. Groups also struggle with accountability because people often assume either the best or the worst in others to begin with. The truth is, though, that all of us are a mix of motivations and desires, some beneficial to ourselves and others, some not. Moreover, most people tend to attribute purer motives to themselves than to others, and justify their own behaviors more than others would justify them.

These struggles point to the need, not only to maintain good accountability, but to do accountability well. The need for accountability goes far beyond avoiding unnecessary legal entanglements (criminal or civil), and far beyond making sure the organization maintains some level of goodwill with respect to its stakeholders, customer base, and so on. Accountability, when done well, allows for the organization to keep its word: to set goals and to keep them, and therefore maintain healthy pursuit of its purpose for the duration of its life cycle.

Many enterprises still do not choose accountability because the results they are getting are good enough for the time being as to not want to change how things operate. Many can operate for many years in this mode. Nevertheless, it can be very risky: the lack of accountability leaves blind-spot weaknesses that can wreak havoc unexpectedly. Good steward leaders know that accountability builds long-term health and sustainability.

How does your organization, business, non-profit, church or local government handle accountability?

 

 Free Governance Consultation

 


 

Interested in more about organizational governance and accountability? Check out our article on Independence of Non-Profit Directors

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Topics: steward leader, Organziational Governance

Board Bullies: When the Bullied becomes the Bully

Posted by Matthew Thomas

Part of a series on Board Bullying:

Organizational Governance and the Bully in the Boardroom
Dealing with Board Bullies: You are not Alone
Board Bullies: Everybody's got one? - by Randal Dick

Board Bullies: Moving from Powerlessness to Empowerment

I have seen a number of cases where a person bullied in one board or business environment becomes (or is) the bully in another environment – whether another board, a church, an organization, or even at home. It is surprisingly common.

In these cases, the person often doesn’t realize they are bullying: they think they are doing the right thing. They often have a self-perception as being the one bullied, so they don’t see what they are doing as similar.

Consider the list of bullying behavior in this recent post. Does any of it fit you? If you fit both the categories of bully and bullied, it may be hard to disentangle the pain and the behavior all by yourself.

Nevertheless, there are ways forward. I have found one particular method to be the most effective: instead of merely avoiding doing the particular bullying behaviors you see in others, think instead toward what kinds of attitudes, perspectives and interactions you want to have toward others. Work toward the positive actions, rather than merely avoiding the negative ones. This will often root out the underlying issues that cause you to actually bully in return, when given the chance.

Design Group International is here with you to walk you and your organization toward healthy board dynamics. Click the link below to begin a conversation about how we can help you.

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Topics: Matthew Thomas, Design Group International, Organziational Governance, Board, Boards, Boardroom, Bully, Bullying, Bullies

Board Bullies: Moving from Powerlessness to Empowerment

Posted by Matthew Thomas

Part of a series on Board Bullying:

Organizational Governance and the Bully in the Boardroom
Dealing with Board Bullies: You are not Alone
Board Bullies: Everybody's got one? - by Randal Dick

One of the most common tactics that board bullies use is to leverage the different parts of the organization to maintain their position of control. If they don’t get their way in the boardroom, they can get it through bullying staff directly. If they don’t get their way through the staff, they can drum up support in the constituency.

Similar actions happen every day in local government, too: in school boards, city councils and other entities that are close enough to the people for people to show up to meetings and have a say. Both the board or council members and the general public use leverage of the other parts of the organization, city, or constituency to move an issue forward, maintain power, or otherwise influence process and outcomes.

Bullies do well when they can instill a sense of powerlessness in their victims. Whether that powerlessness is expressed through getting a constituency upset if a certain motion passes in a meeting (so as to make the effects or enforcement of the motion null and void), or just plain old fear tactics, the bully gets their way when the bullied feel helpless.

See Also: Seth Godin on Custom Bullies

Finding empowerment in the face of bullied helplessness does not necessarily happen with the drama of a made-for-tv-movie. It typically happens by setting one boundary at a time for behavior, beginning with the ones that are easiest to set. Since the board is a body of peers, it is appropriate to develop board covenants to treat one another with respect and abstain from the more egregious behavior that makes the boardroom dysfunctional. From there, boards can set more specific boundaries as needed to cover issues as they arise.

Design Group International is here with you to walk you and your organization toward healthy board dynamics. Click the link below to begin a conversation about how we can help you.

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Topics: Matthew Thomas, Design Group International, Organziational Governance, Board, Boards, Boardroom, Bully, Bullying, Bullies

Dealing with Board Bullies: You Are Not Alone

Posted by Matthew Thomas

Last Tuesday’s post on board bullying received an incredible response – it must have struck a nerve. My colleague, Randal Dick, also wrote on the topic back in March on his blog, here.

I have heard people resonating with the issues I brought up: so many people have been on the receiving end of board bullying. Some even observed their own bullying behavior for the first time, and realized what it was.

So to those who have been in bullying situations on boards, both giving and receiving:

You Are Not Alone.

Bullying may make you feel isolated, and the people who should rise to your cause often do not. Your attempts at conciliation don’t seem to solve anything: if they do in the moment, then they don’t solve the next issue. Your frustration mounts, and maybe you want to quit.

This is a heartbreakingly common phenomenon. Willing volunteers, giving of their time to an organization and a cause to try to better something, someone, and the world at large, so often get beaten down and drained by the dysfunctional dynamics of board life. So the bullied person’s vision, drive, wisdom, wealth and time are all wasted, drained and minimized. The organization is the less for it, and the change in the world that the organization is trying to bring about is seen to be further off than before.

You are not alone.

From what we hear and see every day, the pain, the frustration, the anger, the hurt: it is widespread. So is the love for organizations and causes that keep people engaged even in the midst of really difficult situations.

There can be healing.

There can be health.

You are not alone.

Design Group International is here with you to walk you and your organization toward healthy board dynamics. Click the link below to begin a conversation about how we can help you.

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Topics: Matthew Thomas, Design Group International, Organziational Governance, Board, Boards, Boardroom, Bully, Bullying, Bullies

Organizational Governance and the Bully in the Boardroom

Posted by Matthew Thomas

Much poor board behavior can be traced back to an issue that is getting a lot of press in schools and particularly among teens these days. Bullying is not just restricted to the big kid beating up the little one for his lunch money, or the gaggle of girls ostracizing the new, awkward young lady in the hallway. It happens in families, in churches and in workplaces. And when it happens in the boardroom, it can derail the health and well-being of the whole organization.

When you see:

  • A single board member that everyone feels they have to please
  • Someone who uses threats (veiled or open) to get their way or keep the status quo
  • Someone who leverages their expertise to demean the perspectives of others, instead of building up the organization’s capacity
  • Someone who stirs up the constituency when decisions don’t go their way
  • In churches, when someone plays the “God card” a little too often in ways that always put God on their side, often in ways that condemn others
  • In a variety of settings when someone speaks in martyr language about how much they are doing but how no one will help them out, but then doesn’t allow anyone to help him/her because no one else can do it right

… you are probably seeing a bully in action.

Those of us who have served on boards have most likely been a part of meetings in which these kinds of poor board discipline is expressed. Bullies tend to play off of fear and force to get their way. And boards, as groups of peers, have difficulty breaking through the bully’s cloud of fear that they have laid down on the group.

Creating board policies, covenants or agreements that reflect the behavior the group desires to maintain, and then holding themselves to it, often will reduce the power that bullies have over the organization. Eventually, the board can be empowered to call a bully’s bluff – which often results in a realignment that is healthier, but without half of the bully’s threats coming true.

Have you seen a bully in your boardroom recently? Read more about them here.

Design Group International serves organizations to help them untie knotty organizational problems. Click on the link below to start a conversation as to how we might work together to untie your organization’s knots!

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Topics: Matthew Thomas, Design Group International, Organziational Governance, Board, Boards, Boardroom, Bully, Bullying, Bullies