Culture and Dynamics

Board culture has a significant influence on the way your board carries out its work and shapes your board’s performance.


Whether you know it or not, your board has an internal culture. How your board members communicate with each other, work as a team, and make decisions all define the culture of your board. And the nature of that board culture has a significant influence on the way your board carries out its work and shapes your board’s performance.

While there are many elements of a strong board culture, one of the most important goals is to establish what BoardSource calls a “culture of inquiry.” This means that a board fully enlists differences of opinion, unique vantage points and areas of expertise, and deep, informed questions to cultivate strong collective wisdom. By doing so, boards with this level of inquiry engage and energize their members, use meeting time productively, own and support their decisions, embrace ongoing board development and growth, and ultimately make better decisions. Without a culture of inquiry, the same board can risk group-think, inertia, disengagement, and poor decision making.

Other important characteristics of a strong board culture include

  • a healthy and respectful partnership between the board and the executive
  • trust and candor between board members
  • thoughtful and productive resolution of issues or disagreements
  • a willingness to address poor board behavior that is negatively impacting the board

A strong and positive board culture doesn’t happen on its own. It is cultivated and managed over time.

The resources listed below are designed to help your board create a constructive culture.

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Visual & Written Info

Guides, tools, templates, and infographics
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Written resources: 101, 201, and 301-level

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Guides, Tools, Templates, and Infographics


Written Resources

All 101-level topical resources listed below are available publicly. BoardSource members have access to 101, 201, and 301- level resources. Don’t forget to visit the BoardSource store for more resources and training on this topic.

A Nonprofit Board’s Dynamics and Processes — FAQs

101| Community resource. Have a question about board processes and dynamics? Check here. For easy reference, we’ve compiled the answers to questions we’re frequently asked into one resource.

Board Culture and Meetings

201| Members only resource. Whether you know it or not, your board has an internal culture, and how your board runs its meetings is a reflection of it. Whether you carry on a structured business meeting, diligently following strict rules, or do business in a relaxed manner and atmosphere may be creating either an incentive or a hindrance to fully engaging your present and future board members.

Board Development Plan

201| Members only resource. Developing, educating, or building your board all have the same objective: to create an effective board that is conscious of its own role and responsibilities, motivated by the mission of the organization, willing and able to actively participate in board leadership, and qualified to guide the organization toward progress. A good board development plan will promote board members’ continuous growth and learning.

Boards That Micromanage

201| Members only resource. It is not always easy for a board to see the line between management and governance. Board members need to consider themselves overseers, not implementers. When boards overstep the line between governance and management they can easily become micromanagers.

Building Trust

201| Members-only resource. A productive collaboration relies on trust among team members and building this trust is critical to the board’s ultimate success. Board members — as team members — must be able to rely on each other openly and without reservation.

Catalytic Questions

101 | Community resource.Want to shake up your board meetings? Try posing catalytic questions to your board that require imaginative answers and promote robust discussion.

Combating Stagnation

201| Members only resource. Successful navigation through organizational lifecycles demands adaptability. Learning along the way — mastering the basics of the various stages — is a must in order for the organization to evolve. One of the most challenging obstacles is stagnation, when the organization lies on its laurels, remains comfortable with its accomplishments, and feels no need to change. In order to prevent or survive stagnation, the board and senior staff have a duty to remain vigilant and constantly question today to plan for tomorrow.

Consensus Decision Making: A Success Story

201| Members only resource. Founded in 1989, OPAL (Of People And Land) was one of the first community land trusts in the American West and remains at the forefront of perpetually affordable housing. What accounts for the OPAL board’s success and what can other boards take away from it to apply to their own governance practices? Lisa Byers, executive director, shares her insights here.

Dealing with Resistance to Board Self-Assessment

201| Members only resource. Performance evaluation often is conceived as a threatening exercise. This is not true only with employee performance evaluations but equally applies to boards’ self-assessments. This happens when the purpose of assessment is not understood. Self-evaluation has a negative undertone when it is not used to build positive outcomes.

Eight Ways to Increase Your Board's Ability to Work as a Team

301| Community resource. Board work is, fundamentally, a collective effort, and it requires a unique kind of teamwork among members. This resource presents eight tactics you can utilize to increase your board’s ability to collaborate and work as a team.

Generative Governance: Tips on How to Put It into Practice

201| Members only resource. Governance as leadership provides boards with a significant opportunity to steer their meetings away from straight reporting and toward an adaptive leadership model.

Handling Board Member Complaints

201| Members only resource. When an individual board member is apprehensive about activities — or lack of them — within the organization or the board itself, it is not always easy to air these concerns and know what the proper way to proceed is.

Passion for Mission

201 | Member resource. Knowing your board’s level of emotional ownership will provide a helpful indicator as to the amount of training and follow through an organization must invest to ensure that it enjoys the benefits of good governance principles.

Reimagining Boards for High Impact

101| Community resource. What if leaders could grow their impact without growing their organizations? Read six primary areas where boards can focus their energy to strengthen community relationships and dramatically increase their impact.

Rubber-Stamping Boards

201| Members only resource. In strong boards, members comprehend their role as the fundamental unit guiding the organization. In some weak boards, individual board members seem oblivious to their specific expectations and obligations and are content to be led by others. When the entire board is complacent — a bit too comfortable with status quo or too submissive to authoritarian rule — a potentially detrimental situation threatens the organization as well as individual board members.

Six Characteristics of Effective Boards

301| Member-only resource. After interviewing several hundred boards and chief executives and surveying over 1,000 more, researchers Thomas Holland, Barbara Taylor, and Richard Chait discovered six specific characteristics and behaviors that distinguish strong boards from weak boards

Transitioning from Working Board to Governing Board

201| Members only resource. If an organization grows as hoped and planned for, a “working board” will eventually reach a point when it’s time to transfer the organization’s management, administration, and operations to staff and staff-led volunteers.