Do your board members feel responsible to one another?

Responsible to the organization should be a given. But do the board members feel responsible to each other?

On two recent occasions, I asked board members of very different organizations

What does it look like when you feel engaged?” “What actions do engaged board members take?”

Both groups generated long lists of excellent responses. Perhaps you see yourself in these:

  • They are reflective / evaluative
  • Work where help is needed
  • Contribute their resources / time / $$ / social capital
  • Contribute to discussions
  • Accept responsibility and following through
  • Evangelize for the organization / actively open doors
  • Communicate respectfully, candidly
  • Have the confidence to speak up
  • Are visionary / forward looking
  • Energetic

But when asked

 “Why are you engaged with THIS organization?”

the importance of relationships came through in answers that included:

  • It offers committed intimate relationships
  • “I don’t want to let down my peers”

I don’t want to let down my peers.

 When the board member said this, the others around the table started nodding.  They said things like, “I know they’re counting on me.”

In the rich discussions that followed, many commented on the relationships they each have with others around the board table. They know they can count on each other. They know who the others are – personally, not just by title.

Getting to know each other as individuals leads to a greater investment in the success of the others around the table. Looking for the success of the organization should be a given. But seeking success for your peers implies relationships that are built upon trust and personal knowledge of each other. Seeking success for your peers leads to a greater ability to work together in both good times and bad.

When Google analyzed their teams to find out why some teams worked better together than others, they discovered that it wasn’t the composition of the teams that made the difference, it was whether they created a shared purpose and shared culture. The team leaders took the time to allow team members to know each other as people, not merely functions.

“Google’s intense data collection and number crunching have led it to the same conclusions that good managers have always known. In the best teams, members listen to one another and show sensitivity to feelings and needs.”

When someone joins a board, there is the expectation of spending several hours a month working with others. Making those hours worthwhile from a personal as well as professional standpoint increases the satisfaction they get from the work, and enhances their enthusiasm for doing it.

In a board or staff setting, making time for conversation and getting to know each other creates relationships that work like a web among the participants. Individuals feel responsible to each other, and “don’t want to let down my peers.”

 Boards are not monolithic. Acknowledge that each member is an individual, and create time for sharing life.

What would it make possible if you started the meeting with, what good things happened in your life since we were last together?