Picture of seated Board Members interacting at a table. Title graphic for Board Member Selection: Prevent Dysfunction, Increase Effectiveness

Board Members - Empowering or Exhausting?

–From Dr. Groff.

Whether it’s the incessant talker, the person who challenges everything, or the one who wants to run YOUR organization, the common theme of difficult board members is distraction. Sometimes, the distraction is simply an annoyance; sometimes, it costs valuable time, energy, and organizational protection.

The struggles exist regardless of the organizational type. Whether you are a venture-backed, not-for-profit, or privately owned company, the humans involved will impact material decisions and outcomes.

While everyone knows that, it doesn’t always translate to the process of giving board seats. I’ve witnessed a fair amount of pain because of it.


Vision Questions to Guide Board Member Selection

First, if you already have a set of board members but see some questions that resonate with you, you can still use them. Have a “reset” conversation that utilizes those that resonate and opens the door for changes that need to occur to increase alignment with the vision. One of the psychological tools that is vastly under-utilized is the impact of social desirability pressures and group conformity. While these phenomena often create harm, we can also use them to influence the behavior of board members.

1. What is the overt, stated function of the board? What are the covert expectations?

For example, “to oversee the financial health and sustainability of an organization” may be the overt statement, but it does not specify the degree to which board members will be involved in decision-making. Hence, one board member may think his role is to vote on material financial decisions while another thinks her job is to micro-manage the P & L.

2. What are the non-negotiable guiding values of the organization? Why specifically do you exist and what are you trying to achieve? Most people think of values as moral compass foundations, such as integrity, but these are broad and difficult to operationalize. This question should not elicit a 20 page document. In two sentences, why do you exist?

3. What do you want from board members?

  • Fund-raising
  • Network Access and Introductions?
  • Advice or Ideas?

Rank order what you want according to the factors that will have the most impact on your organizational goals.