Board members must have a shared commitment

It should probably go without saying that boards that function like a successful team have a shared commitment—a shared commitment to the mission and a shared vision for the organization’s future. However, in the board assessment work I do as a consultant, it is very, very common to find that board members aren’t sure whether they and their board colleagues are all on the same page when it comes to mission and vision. As a result, they are less certain about the direction of the organization and who is out of step: “Is it me, or is it them?”

It is easy to assume that the entire board is in-sync on the vision and mission, but unless you’ve discussed this recently, odds are there is some uncertainty among your members. Time passes, events occur, a program is added, shifts in leadership happen, and new people join the board. It doesn’t take much for board members to start wondering where the organization might be heading next (and for new board members to not have a clue).

Many organizations revisit their missions every three to five years when they launch a strategic planning process. While they usually determine the mission is still relevant, it is just as common for them to find that decisions made and strategies developed over the past few years require them to reconsider the mission in a new light. The same thing often happens with the vision—the words you use to describe what you hope the organization will be accomplishing if you are successful in achieving your goals. As the organization moves forward, the vision evolves and shifts, assumptions are made, and before long board members are unsure whether their vision is the organization’s vision.

I’ll suggest that if you really want to keep your board on the same page that you keep your mission statement in front of the board throughout the year (printed on the meeting agenda, posted on the wall, referred to during meetings, etc.) and that you find time in at least one meeting each year to check-in with the board on both the mission and vision. For example, here are some questions you could ask as you approach the close of your fiscal year:

• “As we look back on the events and decisions made during the year, is there anything about our mission or vision that might need revision? Is there anything missing?”

• “Before we welcome new members to the board, does our mission accurately articulate what we are about, and does our vision describe what we want to accomplish?”

If this all sounds too formal, or fraught with peril, approach this in a less structured way. Ask board members to look out a year or two into the future and then respond to this question:

• “What do you want the organization to be accomplishing or achieving by the time we get there?”

Record the answers on a flip-chart. Talk about where you are in-sync and where you are not. Determine if there are any questions that need further discussion at some point. And talk about whether the plans and strategies you have in place now are going to allow you to achieve the vision that has been described.

The message here is that the best teams know exactly what they are about, where they want to go, and they have a plan to get there. Can you say the same for your board team? Are you sure? Return regularly to the mission and vision, keep them current, and make sure every board member is on the same page. If you do, you’ll find that they really DO start performing like a championship team.

For more information about this or other board governance issues, contact Jeff Wahlstrom at (207) 992-4407 or at [email protected].