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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Guides, Tools, Templates, and Infographics


Publications


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.

Common Nonprofit Board Problems

101| Community resource. What are the main weaknesses, omissions, mistakes, flaws, bad judgments, and sins that a board or an individual board member can commit? The following list of most common board problems and shortcomings focuses on how a governing board can lose its way.

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.

Founder’s Syndrome

101| Community resource. “Founderitis” and “founder’s syndrome” are terms often used to describe a founder’s resistance to change. When founderitis surfaces, the source of the dilemma often is a founder’s misunderstanding of his or her role in an evolving organization.

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.

Governing As a Team

101 | Community resource. Creating a collaborative, team culture in your boardroom is the first step in establishing a high-performing board. This resource explains ways to build team spirit on your nonprofit board.

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.

Innovation in Board Structure and Dynamics

101 | Community resource. Are you looking for ways to improve your board’s performance? This article explores innovative thinking on board leadership and transition, along with an excerpt that shares how one board chair and chief executive developed their working relationship.

Overcoming Hidden Barriers to Board Diversity and Inclusion: Executive Summary

201| Members only resource. Most nonprofit boards understand the potential benefits of board diversity and inclusion, yet many struggle to fulfill the promise offered. Why is that? We mean well, after all. Are there hidden barriers to achieving this promise?

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.

Practicing Self-Management

101 | Community resource. Practicing self-management can enhance the relationship between the chief executive and the board and yield benefits for the entire nonprofit organization.

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.

The Engaged Board

201| Members only resource. We are all motivated to serve on a board for different reasons. For a board to accomplish its mission, it must attract members who are committed to the cause, want to be engaged, and find their board service satisfying.

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.