Board Self Discipline

Only the board itself has the authority and the responsibility to set rules for its own operation. Formulating these self-expectations should be a matter of considerable board discussion with careful consideration for the implications of differing options. Once agreed to, board education must be put in place to provide the required skills. Performance against these expectations has to be regularly assessed. The expectations and lots of case examples must also form the basis of new board member orientations. Board self-assessment, continuing board education and skills training should be built into every board meeting with intensive work once a year at a multi-day board retreat. Get some professional help. None of this is easy.

Some basic considerations:
1. The board must speak with one voice. Until the board decides on a policy there should be no speculation, announcement, information leaking, chat or complaining. Once there is a policy, all board members must support the policy regardless of their private position on the issue, or resign from the board.
2. The board should function as a whole body. Do not delegate central board functions to individuals or board committees. There are no bystanders on the board; there should be no second-class board members less ‘in the know' than others.
3. Avoid standing committees. They fragment the board work and let some board members ‘off the hook'.
     a. No finance committee: if you have one, no one else on the board really expects to thoroughly understand and be responsible for the financial statements and related board work.
     b. No Executive Committee: these members always have more information earlier than other board members which gives them a higher status on the board. That produces a "in-group' and the rest. How long will the rest remain supportive, particularly if there is difficult work to be done?
4. Avoid designating board members to oversee operational functions. This occurs, for example, when there is a Treasurer. Treasurers and finance committees interfere with and deflect operational responsibilities from senior staff.
5. If a board committee is required to prepare proposals for board action, for example, to reconsider the organizations' purpose or to prepare a strategic plan to more efficiently achieve that purpose, then the board must write a specific commission for that board committee. The commission must specify the goals, the output requirements, timeline, resources available, supervision schedule and a sunset date. The board as a whole then must monitor committee performance against the commission and take corrective action as required.

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