Building a winning board team

Sometimes it is hard to avoid sports analogies when it comes to talking about board governance. A well-functioning board of directors is very much like a successful sports team—a group of talented individuals, each with unique and complementary strengths, all setting aside their personal agendas to help the entire organization achieve success. As the board chair, you play the roles of coach, captain, and player. It is your job to get the right team on the field, to make sure they understand their roles, to put them in position to have the greatest chance of success, and then to join them on the field as you work together to reach your goals.

In earlier blog postings I spent time talking about recruitment, or how, “to get the right team on the field.” While recruiting and assembling the “right team” increases the odds of success for any team or any board, sports fans know that even the so-called “dream teams” don’t succeed unless they learn their individual roles, play well together, and maximize their strengths. The same is true for boards of directors. It is easy to waste talent and end-up with frustrated board members if you can’t energize them to work together as a team.

If you read books written by or about winning coaches, you’ll find that they all share some tried and true elements that they agree are at the core of successful teams. Here are some (but certainly not all) of the core elements that need to be in place for a successful board team:

A good fit – You need board members who “play well with others” and fit your board culture.

Shared commitment – Everyone must support the mission and direction of the organization and be ready to do the work necessary.

Clarity about roles – A clear understanding of the roles, responsibilities, and expectations of board members (and how they differ from those of the staff) is essential.

Active engagement – Board members who are engaged in work that maximizes their skills and brings value to the organization will be happy and productive board members.

Diversity of viewpoint – Healthy debate and differing opinions should be encouraged, as long as everyone is prepared to support the final decision of the group.

Open communication – Board members need to get the essential information they need in order to do their jobs and then be encouraged to speak-up and actively participate.

Accountability – Board members need to hold themselves and each other accountable for meeting the expectations of the membership and those who depend upon them.

Healthy board culture – Board members should look forward to meetings, and a healthy board culture will nurture connections and a sense of teamwork.

Ongoing assessment and development – We can all benefit from feedback on our performance and some help in further developing our skills.

This list could go on and on, but as the coach and captain of this team, you’ll find that the elements described here are certainly essential to building a winning team. In future blog entries I will spend time on each of these and attempt to give you some strategies for ensuring that your team has what it needs to succeed.

If you would like more information regarding this topic or other board governance issues, contact Jeff Wahlstrom at [email protected] or by calling (207) 992-4407.