Dream Teams: Bringing boards and staff together for organizational success – October 11-21, 2016

October 11 & 12: Board Basics

Governance matters

Boards and other governance structures have many responsibilities. We have learned from those who have gone before us, who have stumbled and learned, that governance is about engaging stakeholders, about stewarding resources, about setting strategic direction and cultivating accountability. It is the responsibility of Board and staff to see that these practices are integrated and within reach of those in charge of governing. Sometimes it is the board that teaches the staff and sometimes it is the other way around. Either way, both are key actors in bringing the organization to fulfill its mission and progressing towards its vision.

Introduction to creating a dream team

So here you are with a new organization and you need a board. Where to start? Or, you have a board that is not adding much value to your organization, what to do about that? Or, you have a board that requires much of your attention as an executive, how to make things more manageable. Or, you are the Board chair and your board, and possibly yourself, are confused about what role to play in the organization. Or you and your fellow Board members are not sure if your contributions are making a difference to how well your organization functions? Or, you have been asked to join a board and you are wondering what you are getting yourself into. This seminar is for all of you. We will be reviewing some key aspects of Board governance, with a different theme every two days. Towards the end we will address Risk governance, a less well understood role of Boards.

*** Please click on the links below to open or collapse sections ***

▼ If you had a Dream Team, what would it look like?

The vision

Wouldn’t it be nice if the executive team and the Board formed a partnership that was not only good for the organization and its beneficiaries but also both professionally and personally satisfying to all? If you are in the enviable position to have joined this seminar with members of your board or your executive team – what would your dream team look like? if you could have everything you wished to see in this relationship, what would be on the top of your list? Even if you joined alone, you can ask yourself those same questions because, as the saying goes, if you don’t know where you are heading, any way will get you there.


In preparation for this reflection you may want to take a look at these brief videos:

  1. Now that you have a vision – Jack Jourden, (00:35)
  2. Motivating oneself with a vision – Kassahum Desalegn (02:27)
  3. What makes a Leader – Haile Debas (02:20)

See also the Managers Who Lead Toolkit (pages 185 & 187)

Q1 – If you had a Dream Team, what would it look like? [click on the question to respond in the forum]
This can be your own vision or one you created with your colleagues and board members

▼ What’s keeping you from your dream?

Current reality

Watch this video and discuss with your board member(s), or reflect on your own about these 10 reasons why boards fail. Knowing where you want to go (your vision) and where you are now, or where you feel your organization and/or board is not doing as well you set up a tension between where you are now and where you’d like to be.


Video: 10 Reasons Boards Fail, Ambrose Business Solutions (05:39)
Leaders Who Govern, Organization Types and Levels (see pages 6:2 and 6:11-12)

Q2 – What’s keeping you from your dream? [click on the question to respond in the forum]
Now that you have a better idea of what you would like your dream team to be, what is the reality now and therefore, what do you need to work on right now?

▼ Which steps of the board cycle need your attention?

Board Building Cycle

Understanding your challenge

Whether you are starting out with a new board or have had a board for some time, the Board Building Cycle can help you prevent problems later or rethink you strategy for effective boards. If not starting out, determine where you are in the process or which step needs attention right now.

Note: The Board Building Cycle is used with permission from The Board Building Cycle: Nine Steps to Finding, Recruiting, and Engaging Nonprofit Board Members, Second Edition by Berit M. Lakey, a publication of BoardSource. For more information about BoardSource, call 800-883-6262 or visit www.boardsource.org. BoardSource © 2016. Content may not be reproduced or used for any purpose other than that which is specifically requested without written permission from BoardSource.


Following are tools and resources to help you with each step of the board building cycle. We are introducing you to the e-book that MSH published last year Leaders Who Govern (LWG), so that you can familiarize yourself with the wealth of information, tools, checklists, sample forms and assessments that it contains.Following the steps in the Board Building Cycle, click on any of the links that appear relevant to your situation.

Step 1 – Identify
LWG, Member Recruitment (see pages 17:2-3, 17:12)
LWG, Composition & Competencies (see pages 2:10-11)
LWG, Deciding on the Need to Establish a Governing Body (see page 7:5)

Steps 2 and 3 – Cultivate and Recruit
LWG, Member Recruitment (see pages 17:2-5 and 17:8)
LWG, Role Confusion (see pages 1:8 and 1:23-25)
LWG, Organization Types and Levels (see pages 6:3-4)
LWG, Managing Oversight (see pages 16:15-18)
LWG, Value and Creation of Terms of Reference (see page 8:2)

Step 4 – Orient
LWG, Member Orientation and Education (see pages 18:2-4 and 18:11)

Step 5 – Involve
LWG, Member Orientation and Education (see page 18:1)
LWG, Culture of Celebration (see page 28:2)

If you have the time you may want to watch this video: Modern nonprofit board governance — passion is not enough!, Chris Grundner (02:26)

Step 6 – Educate
LWG, Member Orientation and Education (see pages 18:5 and 18:7)

Step 7 – Evaluate
LWG, Governance Self-Assessments (see pages 23:3-5 and 23:12)

Step 8 – Rotate
LWG, Use of Subgroups (see page 3:7)
LWG, Member Recruitment (see pages 17:6)

Step 9 – Celebrate
LWG, Culture of Celebration (see pages 28:2 and 28:4)

Q3 – Which steps of the board cycle need your attention? [click on the question to respond in the forum]
Tell us about 1 or 2 steps in the board building cycle that you need to (re)consider and what you propose to do.

▼ Summary

We are closing part 1 but don’t worry, the resources and comments posted under part 1 will remain available to you throughout the seminar. The summary of your responses to the three questions of part 1 is based on the responses from 22 voices, coming out of India, Nigeria, Guyana, Afghanistan, Kenya, Armenia, Ghana, Cameroon, Japan and Sierra Leone and the USA. Although most of these are male voices, I was happy to count four female voices among them with posts from Eddah (Kenya), Karine (Armenia), Mio (Japan) and Kimberly (USA). In part 2 we hope to see even more women expressing their views; they are important! Regarding Question 1 (Describe your Dream Team) your visions are wonderfully similar: many of you believe that between 5 and 9 people is a good size; you are all looking for diversity in terms of gender, expertise, age, and experience. Many of you mentioned that the board, which could include some insiders, should represent the communities served and possibly partners. Some of you specified specific skill such as communication, conflict management, fundraising, and networking. Your ideas match what the experts say about Boards and you will see this reflected in the book Leaders Who Govern. Several of you also mentioned less tangible attributes such entrepreneurial spirit, nimbleness, being passionate, willing to do one’s fair share, looking out for the good of the whole, working well in a team, being honest and transparent, trustworthy, belief in the organization’s mission, sharing its values, and contributing to results. The latter can be done in direct ways, doing part of the organization’s work, maybe as a volunteer, or indirectly by getting resources, networking and representing the organization well in whatever forum. You mentioned knowing one’s role. So far so good – we are in agreement and a vision like that is a good start. Hold on to it, it is your True North!

For Question 2 we pulled you out of your dream state and back into reality, by asking “What’s keeping you from your dream?” Sixteen of you responded to this question, many of the same people. You cited problems of leadership, structure, lack of transparency and equity, people serving for selfish reasons, lack of trust, poor teamwork and the mission, vision, strategies either being too vague or out of date. All these are common organizational challenges. The ones related to risk or how the Board does its work will be discussed in more detail during the remaining days of this seminar, so stay with us. Dexter mentioned several times how he wished he could “raise, build and lead my team into the dream.” With the dream as strong as it is you can do what you want by ‘contaminating’ others with your vision of a better future for those you serve. This is one instance where contamination is a good thing.

And finally we asked you to focus by asking Question 3 (“Which steps of the Board Building Cycle need your attention?”). Eleven of you responded, sometimes with very clear priorities. Some of you realized you have to focus on the first few steps (identify, cultivate and recruit); Raphael stressed ‘Celebrate’ because we all need to be acknowledged and encouraged – sometimes we take for granted that the work we do is ‘good’ and therefore needs no reward; or, if we cannot give any kind of material reward, we forget that it doesn’t have to be material. And for those with existing boards, you choose to focus on improved induction processes, more involvement and education. Simon made a thoughtful comment about the onboarding (or induction or orientation) process and how this can contribute to team spirit and build trust. Karine’s comment about the importance of evaluation will be a focus for next week’s part of this seminar.

On behalf of the LeaderNet team I thank you for your interest, stimulating comments and insights about how to build a Dream Team. Please stay with us, invite other existing or potential members of your Dream Team to log on and help us encourage and enlighten ourselves and each other on where we need to go next. I hand the facilitator baton over to my colleague Karen to start part 2.