I think a lot about how a policy board really adds value to an organization. For all the work it takes to maintain a board, you sure want some value from it. I want my board members to treasure their time on our board and to feel they have truly made a significant contribution to the success of our ministry.
One of the greatest services that a board can provide to its organization is to ask the right questions. I am going to list some really great questions I want to ask my board at its next meeting. I think you’ll want to ask them too. But first, here’s why these are important questions.
A year ago, I blogged about the question, “Do you know what you don’t know?” I gave some suggestions about how to protect yourself from your own blind spots. What I didn’t suggest was to ask your board what your blind spots are, and I think you should. If you have a good board, then you have a group of skilled and experienced people who probably have a range of perspectives through which to assess a situation. Your staff may or may not be willing to challenge your perspective (I hope they would so that we end up with the best ideas!), but your board has no such reluctance. You report to them.
In fact, in a recent post I quoted Richard Chait, who said that “The board leads largely by questions and not by answers….The board can constructively challenge the executive and senior staff to articulate the plan clearly, explain their reasoning persuasively, and confront squarely the plan’s feasibility, including its downside and its blind spots.”
Blind spots can develop if a team shares too much in common (experience, temperament, worldview, assumptions, etc.).They can also develop when one party places too much trust in another party, and so accepts their views without critical reflection. Too much emphasis on staying true to a way of operating, to a vision or to a strategy that arose during the founding of a team can also easily create blind spots.The lack of awareness that results can be quite dangerous for the team’s ministry.
Questions to ask the board
So, here are my questions for my board:
- Reflecting on what you have observed of CCCC’s management during your term on the board, can you think of anything that we might be ‘blind’ to?
- Do you hold any views or assumptions that are contrary to what we are acting upon?
- Is there any evidence of ‘groupthink’ between the board and staff?
- Reflecting on your time as a CCCC director, do you believe the board has maintained its independence from management and been able to make its own fully informed decisions?
- Are there topics that our board has not addressed that you would have expected it to?
- What would you like the board to discuss that it hasn’t already addressed?
- Have we had enough contrarian views and credible alternatives provided to the board that you feel you have truly had the full range of perspectives as input to board discussions?
Perhaps you have some favourite questions you like to ask your board. Could you share them?
A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel…The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel…Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed. Proverbs 1:5, 12:15, 22