When there is a culture of consensus within a nonprofit’s internal employees, this trickles up to board member dynamics. Volunteers run nonprofit boards. Therefore, this means that those serving can be quite sensitive about feeling heard and valued. Nonprofits often cater to their boards. After all, they want to ensure everyone feels as though they are making a difference in the success of the organization. This desire to maintain the status quo often leads to a culture of consensus.
What happens is when a contentious conversation topic comes up, leaders delay the vote because there is a lack of direction. There is often seemingly no option to move past these deadlocks. Unfortunately, this causes board member dynamics to stall. Consequently, instead of a member saying no or pushing back, boards decide that they don’t want to move forward unless everyone agrees.
If this sounds like an issue that your nonprofit faces, review some key takeaways:
In many consensus situations, board members don’t feel as though they’re heard or that their opinion matters. As a result, they simply stay quiet and agree with the larger group. This is why a designated facilitator is incredibly helpful. This person can help manage situations on a nonprofit board where talking points stall or certain to-dos are kicked down the road. A facilitator can help board members engage in open and honest conversations to ensure decisions are made as a group.
While most nonprofit boards already rely on committees to make decisions, larger decisions need input from the entire board. However, trying to come to a unanimous decision without any conflict is easier said than done. Instead of trying to discuss important issues like strategic direction, fundraising, and more in a large group, boards should break into small groups of three to four people. This way, they can talk through these issues in a more intimate setting.
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Try as you may, there will always be board members who still don’t speak up. Similarly, there will be those who talk maybe a little too much. This is where coaching comes into play. As a nonprofit executive or board chair, it’s your responsibility to work one-on-one with board members. Improve board member dynamics by giving them the tools, resources, and knowledge to do their jobs better.
As with any group activity, board leaders should actively ask for regular feedback from board members. It’s important to gauge the overall feelings and sentiment of the group. Anonymous board assessments are a great way for members to give feedback and tips without ruffling too many feathers. While keeping this feedback anonymous will probably lead to more candid and truthful answers, add a space where board members can include their name if they have a question or require more information.
Consensus culture is a common issue with nonprofit boards. Fortunately, with a little effort, you can take simple steps to improve board member dynamics. More robust discussions and conversations are more than possible. Keep up the great work!
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