Are You on a Dysfunctional Board?

Think about your last nonprofit board meeting. When you left, were you satisfied with what was accomplished? Did attending seem like a worthwhile investment of your time? Did you feel you made a meaningful contribution to the meeting, discussions and decisions? Were you excited and looking forward to the next meeting?

Or was the last meeting a disaster and a time waster?

There is no doubt that many members of nonprofit boards have experienced the pain of dysfunction. The horror stories can range from wasted time on trivial matters to boring “show and tell” presentations from management to virtually no comments by any board member on any matter. Often, one or two members dominate the conversation with opinions and complaints. Frequently, a chair will allow no dialogue or a president plots to ensure complete control of the enterprise.

Ultimately, these kinds of experiences can lead to a level of frustration that drives members away from serving, or leaves members so disengaged they begin to avoid board meetings altogether. Eventually, a failure to have positive experiences at meetings will stifle meaningful commitment and eliminate any real value contributed by the board members.

Dysfunctional boards lead to dysfunctional organizations. When the tone at the top is tainted by a general lack of purpose or commitment by a frustrated or disengaged board, it’s inevitable the board will have no material impact. Weak boards almost guarantee a weak organization. Boards can be a strategic asset to the management, or they can inhibit strategy.

So what can you do, besides resign? The answer is not simple as it will require change and a commitment to exercise leadership.

Move from passive observer to engaged leader, and volunteer to take on one of the tough challenges that everybody else seems to be avoiding. Start serious networking to meet the other board members at times and places unconnected to the nonprofit. You might be surprised with their frustration as well.

Recruit new members, like you, who will get and stay actively engaged.

Befriend the current chair, and offer to help with setting a productive agenda.

Connect with the president/executive director, and become an informal coach/mentor.

Become an advocate for governance training for the board to get everyone back on task, on mission and recommitted.

In short, be willing to say yes to requests to get more engaged. Engagement and action become the platform for you to work on the dysfunction. You can be the change agent that turns a dysfunctional board into the strategic asset it should be.

Gerry Czarnecki is founder and chairman of the nonprofit National Leadership Institute (nationalleadershipinstitute.org), which helps boards of nonprofit organizations become strategic assets to the leadership team. His extensive background as a C-suite executive and CEO is coupled with current board leadership of corporate and nonprofit organizations. He is also chairman and CEO of the Deltennium Group. Contact him at 561.293.3726 or gmc@deltennium.com.

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