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21 Mar '13

Violations of good board behavior that kill good goverenance

Posted by T.J. Addington in unhealthy boards
Good boards practice good governance which means that they go out of their way to not violate healthy board practices. The fact is that unhealthy practices on boards create all kinds of chaos and conflict within ministries. Healthy boards contribute to healthy ministry while unhealthy boards contribute to unhealthy ministry. Having worked with ministry boards for 25 years I would suggest that the following violations of good governance are responsible for a great deal of harm among ministries.

Not keeping confidences of the board room.
The board room is a place for honest, robust dialogue where any issue can be discussed with the exception of personal attacks and hidden agendas. However, that is only possible in an environment of trust which means that board members need to be assured that their deliberations will always be kept confidential. Once that trust is breached it is hard to regain it.

Allowing staff to go around their supervisor directly to board members on issues that concern them.
This is a huge "no no" for several reasons. First, it violates the principle that every individual has only one supervisor. Second, the board member now has one side of an issue and has information other board members don't have skewing his or her perception. Third, it is not fair to the organizational leader who may not know what is happening and certainly doe not know what is being communicated and it undermines their authority. Board members always respect the chain of authority in an organization and have in place a grievance policy for those times when it warrants it. 

Not supporting decisions of the board once they are made.
This is a hard one especially when a board makes a poor decision. And, there are times when decisions are so poor that it may make sense to step off the board knowing that one cannot support its decisions. If one is going to serve on a board, however, it must speak with one voice through its decision making process. Robust dialogue should take place in the board room but once the decision has been made it is the boards voice that is heard, not individual voices.

Allowing factions to grow on the board bringing division to its deliberations.
Divided boards create divided congregations. Further, board factions make it impossible for the board to make decisions together since faction by definition divide. It is critical that board members exercise the discipline of maturity in this and don't allow factions to divide them. That is a choice we all make and it is a clear sign of either maturity or immaturity.

Allowing any individual to control the outcome of decisions.
No individual, be it the pastor, a founding member or influential individual should have the power to veto or determine board decisions. Healthy boards have a collective voice determined by prayer, and collective deliberations. 

Protecting a piece of the pie rather than the health of the whole.
Board members do not represent a constituency or a piece of the ministry but are there to ensure the health of the entire ministry. Even when board members serve as quasi staff in a new or small church, once they enter the board room they put their board hat on and represent the whole, not a part.

Focusing on administration to the exclusion of a vibrant prayer and study rhythm.
Boards must pay attention to administrative issues within a church but most church boards err on the side of administration to the exclusion of prayer and relevant Scripture study together. Some boards never pray together and yet they represent a Christian cause. Prayer and the Word are the work of a board that is serving as under servants of God.

Operating without a board covenant.
Board problems almost always trace back to poor behavior or practices of one or more board members. A well written board covenant spells out the expectations of board members to speak well of one another, keep confidences, resolve personal conflict quickly, abide by board decisions and so on. Board members not only sign that covenant but they agree to be held accountable for living up to it. It goes a long ways toward ensuring a healthy board.

Ignoring known issues.
It never ceases to amaze me that boards have an uncanny ability to live with issues that everyone knows exist but that no one is willing to state or put on the table for discussion. It is pure conflict avoidance - the elephant in the room - that we are afraid to discuss openly. Here is the bottom line: It is cowardly not to be able to discuss known issues. Elephants are not elephants once they are named. Rather, they are issues to be discussed and prayed over. Board members need to put on their grown up pants once in a while and deal with hard stuff. 

Focusing on the small rocks and pebbles rather than the big rocks.
This is a major sin of many boards. They allow the trivial to keep them from discussing the truly important. Why? For one it is easier. Second, it seems urgent at the time. Urgency is not the same as important, however and many things can be delegated to others. The way to control this is to empower the chair of the board to allocate the bulk of the board tine for those things that are most important and let the pebbles and sand go to the bottom or to someone else.