Total read time: 3.5 minutes
In our previous article, we wrote about developing a culture of learning and continual improvement on boards. An important part of encouraging the kind of openness and questioning that’s required for a learning culture is ensuring that the board is a ‘safe space’.
Sadly, there are many boards in the community sector that don’t really feel that safe for new members. Whether it’s different factions disagreeing and struggling for power, or a director who has been on the board for decades and passionately disagrees with any attempts to change direction, or a hostile relationship between the board and the executive director, the fact is that boards are teams of people, and teams often have difficult dynamics. Unhappy boards are particularly problematic in a sector where most directors are volunteers, and an eager new board recruit can quickly become a disillusioned ex-volunteer who is looking to spend their precious spare time with a more supportive organisation.
Articles on dealing with challenging board situations often focus on useful tips for skilful chairing or for facilitating more productive discussions. These are important, but there’s a tip that’s often missed: lunch.
Or dinner or coffee. Or any opportunity for board members to get to know each other better and start to build a relationship that isn’t solely based on their position on the board.
When you only know someone from across the boardroom table, it can be easy to focus on the differences. By getting to know them better, you can focus on what you have in common, which presumably includes an interest that brought you to the organisation in the first place. In our busy lives it is often difficult to make time for these relational activities, and no one wants to overburden their board members with too many additional commitments. But we’ve served on boards where there was little contact between board members between meetings and few opportunities to build board relationships, and the boards were poorer for this lack of connection.
So if you’re having trouble building a strong and supportive board culture, try breaking down the barriers by breaking bread together.