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25 Mar '13

Why boards must always speak with one voice

Posted by T.J. Addington in church boards, divided boards
One of the key principles of healthy board governance is that boards always speak with ONE (corporate) voice! In other words, while robust dialogue and candid discussion takes place within the board room, once a decision is make it has only ONE voice and that ONE voice is the will of the majority, thus the will and decision of the board.

Why is this so important? First, it is the nature of boards themselves. They are by definition a corporate group that must make corporate decisions. While a board is made up of multiple individuals, it is a single (corporate) entity and as such cannot have multiple points of view when it speaks. The whole premise of a board and that of governance is that it is a single entity. When board decisions are disagreed with publicly by a board member it is no longer a single entity but several!

That is why when a board does not speak with one voice it often creates division within a church body. After all, if board members are not united by the decision they made, why should the congregation be united when they make a decision. We expect that the congregation, having voted on something (when that happens) will support the decision. When they don't see that happening at the board level, the board itself is training the congregation that they don't need to either and that it is OK not to support a corporate congregational decision. That of course undermines the health and unity of the church.

It also creates confusion. When a board as a whole makes a recommendation and individual board members dissent from that decision in public, what is the congregation to think? As a congregational member I would assume that the board itself does not really know what the direction should be and therefore the recommendation of the board carries little or no weight. Further, the board member who dissents is actually dissenting with himself/herself (how confusing is that?) because he/she is a member of the corporate group that made a corporate decision which he/she is now disagreeing with.

One of the highest qualifications for a board member is that of humility because all board members must submit their preferences to the preferences of the group. It is also why I say that "boards operate without a board covenant at their own risk." The covenant spells out how the board operates and the commitments that board members make to each other. One of the foundational commitments is that board members always support a board decision once it is made. They agree to speak with ONE voice.

Ununified boards outside the board room kill good governance, model poor behavior, create division and confusion in the congregation and are a violation of healthy governance practices. They hurt the very entity they are charged with leading and protecting.