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

October 17 & 18: Board/Staff Partnerships

working together
Photo Credit: Rui Pires

Welcome to the second week of our discussions about building robust, effective nonprofit boards. For those of you who are joining us for the first time, we encourage you to look through the summaries of the topics discussed last week – Part 1: Board Basics and Part 2: The Work of the Board.

Hopefully, whether your board is new or old, you now have had a chance to dream and look at the current reality, including the size, structure and processes of the board. We hope you have also started to think about what aspects you need to pay attention to.

In the next two days we are going to focus on two areas:

  1. the dynamics within the board and between the board and staff, and
  2. the partnership between the board and its chief executive officer (CEO) or executive director (ED)

Earlier in this seminar we looked at some of the reasons as to why boards may not perform as well as they might. If you haven’t watched this video yet, do so now about the top ten reasons why boards fail to review the most common problems.

You’ll notice that in this video one of the reasons boards fail is for lack of teamwork. Exceptional boards govern in partnership with the CEO/ED, recognizing that their effectiveness is interdependent. Boards cannot govern effectively without the CEO/ED´s collaboration and the CEO/ED cannot lead the organization to its full potential without the board´s support.

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

▼ The dynamics between board and staff – a matter of clarity about roles and responsibilities

In general, the board governs the organization and the staff conducts operations. Although one would expect this should be clear, this isn’t always the case. Even if the division of roles may be clear at a high level, the devil is in the details. Take a look at the sample checklist on page 16:3 of Leaders Who Govern to see for yourself how clear you are on who should be doing what.In order for an organization to achieve its goals effectively, and with a minimum of friction between staff and the board, it is essential for the board chair and CEO/ED to eliminate confusion by making everyone´s working role clear and to talk about it when things are not so clear.


Leaders Who Govern, Role Confusion (see table on page 1:8)
Leaders Who Govern, Management Oversight (see management vs. governance sample checklist on page 16:3)

Video: 10 Reasons Boards Fail, Ambrose Business Solutions (05:39)

Q7 – Case: What should the CEO/Executive Director do to improve role clarity? [click on the question to respond in the forum]

The board chair has asked to see weekly financial reports and spends at least one afternoon a week in the offices meeting with the CEO and talking to staff. The CEO is upset at the level of the board chair´s involvement in the day-to-day affairs of the organization and is unsure what to do about it. What should the CEO do?

▼ The partnership between the board and the Chief Executive

While the board and CEO/ED work in partnership, it is the responsibility of the board to hire, support, evaluate, and, if needed, dismiss the CEO/ED. Performance evaluations of the CEO/ED should be done regularly and in a constructive way. Areas for evaluation might include:

  • Organizational goals
  • Administration
  • Budgeting and financial management
  • Program activities
  • CEO/ED´s relationship with the board, funders, government agencies, and the community
  • Human resource management
  • Other appropriate areas

In preparing for to evaluate the CEO/ED´s performance, you may gather input from board members about his/her performance.


Leaders Who Govern, Management Oversight (see sample performance assessment for a chief executive on page 16:20)

Q8 – Case: What should the board chair do if members lack confidence in the CEO? [click on the question to respond in the forum]

At a recent board meeting, a board member begins to question a series of decisions made by the CEO, complaining that a series of policy decisions were involved and the board was not properly consulted. The board member has expressed her lack of confidence in the CEO to a number of others on the board. Although most of the other board members feel the CEO does a good job, a number think the board should have been consulted about these particular decisions. At the meeting, they do not speak up. How should the board chair handle the situation?

▼ Summary

Today concludes Part 3 of our Dream Team seminar which has centered on partnerships between the Board and the staff of an organization. We invited your comments and provide suggestions on how to tackle situations described in two scenarios. This summary is based on responses from 18 participants.

Clarifying roles and responsibilities: In Question 7, we asked you to comment on how the CEO/Executive Director can improve the clarity of roles and responsibilities in a situation where the board chair is taking on management responsibilities. Your suggestions on why this situation may have arisen included lack of clarity/delineation/respect for roles and responsibilities, poor communication, mistrust or lack of confidence in the CEO, or failure of staff to follow board policies, leading the board chair to take over. Autry mentioned that the board chair may have spent years as a manager and may be defaulting to a managerial role rather than switching to a governing role.

Suggestions for addressing the situation include:

  • Improved communication, including open and honest dialogue between the board and chair, to discuss the situation, clarify and document roles and responsibilities (especially with regard to managing and monitoring finances), and address trust issues (Theresa, Kim, Iniobong, Noah, Simon, Zaheer, Susan Post). As Noah pointed out, this could be a great learning opportunity.
  • Ensuring that the CEO is keeping the board informed of pertinent issues (Dexter) and that there is full transparency in financial activities (Susan Post)
  • Making sure that boards are well prepared for meetings (agenda, reports) to prevent misunderstandings and enable better communication during meetings (Painda, Noah)
  • Better induction and refresher training (Basirat, Noah).

Bina reminded us of the harsh reality of board/staff relationships – highlighting gender issues, political imperatives, public/private differences that can arise and the potential of groups forming amongst the board members. Overall the message was that relationships need work! Theresa mentioned the need to build understanding and mutual respect between the CEO and board members so they can support each other. Karen suggested some key issues to discuss in the first meeting between the CEO and board chair to set the foundation for the relationship. These include meeting frequency, order of preference for communication-email, phone), discussing what each of them values and what could bother them in a working relationship, as well as how they can work better to fulfill their respective roles.

Addressing trust issues: In Question 8, we asked you how the board chair could address a situation where some board members appear to lack confidence or trust in the CEO. Several of you made good recommendations and comments (Zaheer, Iniobong, Dexter, Baisirat, Simon, Painda, Karine, Susan Post, Lakachew, Eddah, Autry, Annddy) including:

  • Begin by verifying that the concerns raised by the other board members are valid. For example, Simon pointed out that board members(s) raising the complaint may have a personal interest in the matter and several of you highlighted the importance of managing conflicts of interest of board members and the CEO.
  • Give the CEO the opportunity to explain her/his actions to board members.
  • Develop a position description for the CEO. Then, after gathering information and evidence from the board members, the board chair should initiate a performance appraisal with the CEO and provide feedback on responsibilities listed in the position description.
  • Build the capacity of the CEO
  • Have a structured meeting agenda and include directives to enable board members to better evaluate the performance of the CEO.

On behalf of the LeaderNet team, we thank you for your very active participation in Part 3. Please stay with us for Part 4 where we discuss risk management and governance. We hand over facilitation baton to Mahesh to start part 4.

All the best

Sue and Helena, on behalf of all seminar moderators