Association Governance Rough Waters Arise from Board Identity Confusion
Let's think of associations as ships. We can then think of association governance as the relationships, processes, and policies that keep the ships afloat. Associations must travel a specified course set by a captain and crew who are aware of their obligations. Organizations risk running aground or capsizing without such clearly-defined leadership.
Many challenges facing effective association governance begin with the issue of identity. Who among their board is responsible for what is not always clear. Sorting out this mess is time-consuming -- time better spent on actual operational and process requirements. A major contributor to this problem is the nature of boards themselves.
Board members are appointed or elected, often for limited terms. As such, there is no guarantee they are best qualified for the position. Many board seats also turn over with little or no preparation provided by the previous occupant or otherwise. Because of this, even qualified board members can enter their position without a clear picture of their duties.
Ultimately, proper and efficient association governance begins with the board members knowing how and what they must do. They must be certain of the particulars of their identity within the association. From there, they must know how that identity relates to the rest of the board and association.
So, what are the consequences if identities (and thus roles and responsibilities) are unclear?
Board Identity Confusion Ripples Outward
Simply put, things are less likely to get done in a timely fashion -- if at all -- when association identities are uncertain. The organization's movement towards success slows or halts while sorting the mechanisms of its motion. There always needs to be a definitive path towards goals, and one must explicitly identify the people involved.
If not, the ship becomes dead in the water.
Non-board association members can also be affected when board roles and responsibilities are unclear. The former's day-to-day processes can become interrupted if uncertainty leads to missteps and miscommunications.
For example, an association may hire paid staff to be responsible for operational procedures. If a board member is not clear on what this means, they may pass along decisions that seem to them related to their role but are actually within the staff's wheelhouse. From the staff's perspective, the board member is getting involved with things they should not. However, the staff may not have the power to ignore or contradict the board member. How then should conflicting mandates be handled?
As a result, the ship begins to flounder.
How to Better Define Identities to Aid Association Governance
Effective association governance goes beyond identity problems alone. However, effectively defining roles on the board and elsewhere in the organization is a necessary starting point. Other obstacles to effective governance cannot be avoided if duties and relationships are unclear.
The first step to sorting out this problem may be clearly defining what is necessary to fill a given position. Here are some suggestions you may want to consider:
- Detail the competencies and experience each board role requires. Adjust your board election / appointment process to accommodate these requirements.
- A role outline similar to a job description.
- Prepare information packets to help inform new board members.
- Accommodate a transition period that enables existing members to inform their replacements.
Once these identities are established and clarified, the organization must hold them accountable. Mechanisms must be in place for addressing concerns as soon as possible. If they are not, it is unlikely successful association governance will take hold. The further board members wander unaddressed, the more diluted and confused their roles become.
Never lose sight of the fact that an organization looks to its board for leadership. The more trouble the board has keeping to its intended identities, the more elusive successful association governance becomes.
The ship will likely sink.
Learn More at the CSAE Association Governance Forum
If you are interested in exploring the issue of Association Governance further, consider attending the CSAE Governance Forum in Vancouver on November 29, 2016.
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Governance Forum Attendee