Archive for May, 2017


Five Things to Consider Before Inviting Visitors into the Boardroom

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

Inclusion, transparency and trust are important values for many congregations. To promote these values, congregations often adopt open board meetings. Members who do not serve on the governing board are welcome to attend the board’s meetings. They may or may not be allowed to weigh in with their opinions. Are open board meetings a good idea? Under what circumstances?

A variety of options exist for opening the board meeting to visitor participation. It is important to note that in each of the following scenarios only elected board members are permitted to vote.

Some congregations open the entire board meeting to visitors but ask the observers to watch and listen in silence. Occasional closed door sessions are held, where all visitors are asked to leave the room so that more confidential agenda items can be discussed.

Other congregations open a portion of the meeting to hear from any non-board member on any topic. Then the meeting is closed and visitors are asked to leave the room.

Still others invite only those outsiders with insights pertinent to a planned agenda item. These visitors typically arrive at the beginning of the meeting and stay through their scheduled discussion topic. Once the pertinent agenda item is finished the visitor is expected to leave.

What is the impact of having outsiders in the boardroom? There are at least five factors to consider before deciding to open or close your board meetings.

 

The Size of the Group Matters

The ideal sized decision making unit is between five and seven individuals. In a group of five to seven people, every participant can track the opinions of every other person. Every voice can be heard. The group is large enough to foster diversity but small enough to prevent silent factions.

Most governing boards are already larger than seven members before visitors are invited. We must bear in mind that each additional person in the room exponentially increases the challenges of open communication and decision making.  This is true even when the visitors are not allowed to vote or comment. Interpreting body language and imagining the viewpoints of silent participants is all part of the communication challenge.

 

The Quality of the Work Matters

The primary work of many governing boards involves sharing reports about what has already occurred and seeking authorization for upcoming activity. If this is the primary work of your board- you won’t be inhibited by the presence of non-board members. There isn’t much that outsiders can do to enhance or inhibit rubber stamp board work.

However, if you would like your board to be more strategic and generative, reconsider the presence of visitors.  Strategic work involves examining congregational identity, clarifying core values, naming targeted outcomes, and aligning resources. Generative work involves noticing changes in the environment, challenging paradigms, and re-framing ministry.

Strategic and generative work requires bold and imaginative thinking. Board meetings should serve as safe spaces where leaders can brainstorm outlandish ideas before narrowing in on a specific course of action. Board leaders shouldn’t have to worry about what a visitor might take away about an idea that is only half formed.

 

The Emotional and Spiritual Intelligence of the Visitor Matters

The work that takes place in the board room ought to represent the best and brightest thinking of the congregation. Hopefully, we assemble boards made up of emotionally and spiritually mature leaders. We should only invite outsiders into the board room who have the capacity to enhance our conversation.

Sometimes, the people who show up in response to open invitations are not our best and brightest. They may have an individual axe to grind. They may be attracted to the board room as a vehicle to exercise power and control. They may simply be seeking something to do, or a way to connect.

When you decide to incorporate non-board members, consider the emotional and spiritual maturity of people that will be in the room. Their presence includes them in the dynamic, regardless of whether they speak during the meeting. A silent meeting participant won’t necessarily remain silent once they leave the room. They may take their end of the conversation into the parking lot or onto social media.

 

Every Voice Matters, But Not in the Board Room

Every member of your congregation is a child or God and of equal inherent worth. Every member of the congregation has equal voice on issues that come before the congregation for a vote. However, not every voice belongs in the board room.

We are all gifted in different ways and called to serve differently in church life. Those who are gifted in the work of governance, policy and strategy are called to serve as board members. We should authorize them to make decisions on our behalf and then hold them accountable in accordance with our by-laws. We shouldn’t micromanage their monthly meetings.

Members who have not been authorized to serve as board leaders should not have unlimited access to board conversations. They should apply their skills and abilities to areas where they are most gifted.

 

There are Better Ways to Promote Trust

There are better ways to engender trust, transparency and inclusion than randomly inviting members to witness or influence the work of the board.

The research of leadership professors, Warren Bennis and Joan Goldsmith (1997), identified four organizational traits associated with trust: vision, empathy, consistency and integrity.

Our governing boards will be trustworthy when their work produces clarity of vision, when the actions of the board demonstrate empathy for the membership base, when the board makes decisions that are consistent with the core values of the congregation, and when board decision-making brings about moral order. If the random inclusion of non-board members detracts from these conditions, then inclusion works against trust.

Want to enhance the culture of trust, inclusion and transparency in your congregation? Be more intentional, and perhaps more restrictive, about who gets invited into the boardroom.

 

(Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds, May 2017, Norfolk, England. Flickr)