Habits of an Effective Board

When it comes to executive and nonprofit boards that really get things done, there are a number of factors that most of them have in common. These are some of the most important.

  • They have a clear mission statement that they refer to regularly to guide decision-making. No organization will ever be great until they set a reasonable focus for what they intend to be about and what they hope to achieve. Their mission statement should be narrow enough to be attainable but not so narrow that it hinders future expansion.


  • They set concrete goals and revisit them regularly to measure progress. Rarely has anything significant been accomplished without setting a definitive intention and a target that can be assessed to determine when it has been met. Effective boards know this and set objectives that are practical yet challenging and meaningful.


  • They set realistic expectations for all members and monitor follow-through. Not only does the organization itself have goals, but each board member should as well. Members of effective boards are not allowed to coast along without contributing. A supportive structure is available to help any member who needs assistance fulfilling their duties, but everyone must provide value.


  • They seek out new members unlike themselves. Diverse organizations are known to be more productive and make better decisions. Effective boards make an effort to find new members who can bring something different to the table. They don’t simply recruit from their cronies at the country club or their business associates. They look for a diversity of individuals who will have different ideas, backgrounds and networks than they do.


  • They use each member’s unique skills effectively. Effective boards don’t try to put an introvert in charge of the events committee or put a social butterfly on the task of managing the membership database. They discover the particular talents and temperaments of their members and find a way to utilize them to their best advantage.


  • They adequately prepare new members with needed resources and orientation. Effective boards don’t just throw new members into the fire or expect them to simply figure things out on their own. They have dedicated materials and a process for onboarding all new folks to help them find their way, feel welcomed and set them on the path for becoming a valuable addition to your association or nonprofit. See New Board Member Orientation Guide for more tips on getting members acclimated.


  • They focus on strategic planning and trust committees to handle the rest. Micromanaging all the initiatives your organization has taken on does not allow the board to focus on the bigger picture. Effective boards understand the importance of delegating much of the planning of a variety of objectives to committees. This involves trusting the committee chairs to be responsible leaders in their areas.


  • They stay in communication with each other outside of meetings. Some boards have meetings a few times per year, and in between everyone goes back to their lives and lose touch and lose momentum until it is time for the next meeting. Effective boards don’t do this. They set up regular communication at least monthly with all members to give and receive updates, ensure that progress is being made and keep the previously-set goals in everyone’s mind.


  • They are open to new ideas and methods. Many organizations are stagnant and can easily get into a rut because it is so much easier to simply do what you have always done. Effective boards are not afraid of trying things a different way if it may lead to better outcomes. They are open especially to the ideas of newer and younger members who may be able to envision innovative processes and opportunities.


  • They are willing to take calculated risks. This is related to the previous bullet point about getting into a rut. Organizations don’t become great by simply staying in their lane and doing the same old same old. Great leaders know that you have to take some chances and know that many of them won’t work out. But the ones that do work out can be the impetus that leads to big increases in productivity and reaching goals.


  • They come to meetings prepared and with a well-organized agenda. Productive meetings start with a well-thought out agenda and the proper preparation of all members in attendance. For more details, see An Associations Guide to Board Meetings.


  • They are transparent. Any board that attempts to be secretive about meetings and future plans breeds distrust and rumors among the rank and file. Effective boards are open and forthright with volunteers, employees, members and other stakeholders about their plans, financing and goals.

For more ideas on fostering great board culture visit the Harvard Business Review.