Role of the Executive Team

An ideal sized governing board in the large congregation is 5-7 individuals. A group of this size can effectively engage strategic decision making. Many congregations simply cannot imagine reducing the size of their governing board to 5-7 individuals. Either the operating culture or the congregation’s polity system do not support a streamlined decision making group. Congregation members may be too distrustful of the small board, believing that it couldn’t possibly represent the best interest of an entire congregation. In these congregations an executive team is often formed within the board structure, to facilitate more effective decision making and to help the board maintain a focus that is more strategic and generative in scope.

The executive team may consist of the senior clergy leader, the executive clergy (if such a role exists), the board chair, the treasurer (or other financial office) and one or two other central board figures. Executive teams may meet weekly, bi-weekly or monthly, depending upon the work that they do on behalf of the congregation. Executive teams can promote good governance when they focus their time in the following ways:

Triage: One of the primary ways that an executive team can promote good governance is by triaging the various topics that are slated to come before a board. The team looks over all of the slated board issues and determines which topics can be effectively delegated to other decision making bodies in the congregation. By keeping an overabundance of fiduciary items off of the agenda the executive team can help the board stay more strategically and generatively focused.

Framing: Once the ET has determined that an issue does belong on the board’s agenda they can work to frame the issue in a way that will encourage strategic and generative conversations about the topic. They can determine which part of a conversation belongs to the board, and then they can frame the topic in such a way that the board’s time is well used in service to the decisions which must be made. Similarly, the ET may entertain some dialogue around important topics before bringing the issue to the board so that only those elements of the topic that are relevant to the board’s decision making are brought to the board. In other words, the ET strains out irrelevant or misleading data so that the board conversation stays more focused on the truly critical issues at hand.

Decision-Making: Some congregation’s delegate specific types of decision making to the ET. The most common decision making that occurs within an Executive Team is the time-sensitive issue that must be acted upon in between regularly scheduled board meetings. When the ET makes a decision on behalf of the board it is critical that full disclosure of those decisions be communicated back to board members in a timely manner.

• Deciding what to place in the “consent” agenda: A consent agenda, sometimes called a consent “calendar,” is a component of a meeting agenda that enables the board to group routine items and resolutions under one umbrella. As the name implies, there is a general agreement ahead of time by a board on the use of the procedure. Issues that are packaged together in a consent agenda are distributed to board members ahead of their regularly scheduled meeting for preview purposes. At the meeting, items in the consent agenda do not warrant any discussion before a vote. Unless a board member feels that an item should be discussed and requests the removal of that item ahead of time, the entire package is voted on at once without any additional explanations or comments. Because no questions or comments on these items are allowed during the meeting, this procedure saves time. Those items removed from the consent agenda by a member of the board can be discussed more fully before being acted upon. The Executive team can pre-sort the issues up for inclusion in a board meeting and determine which items can effectively be included within the consent agenda.

Large congregations that make effective use of an Executive Team often find that over time the board needs to meet less frequently. As the ET becomes more effective at triaging, framing and decision making on behalf of the board, board members come to accept and expect strong leadership from the ET. Board members appreciate the need to meet less frequently and appreciate that when they do meet they are engaged in more productive conversations that truly benefit the life of the congregation. Some congregations, after working effectively with an Executive Team over time, come to realize that the ET has become the governing board and that the larger governing body is actually an advisory group to the ET. Once this awareness takes hold, the congregation may be ready to reduce the size of their board to 5-7 individuals and eliminate the Executive Team.

Photo Credit: Zebra Huddle

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