How to Move Your Board from “I” to “We” Statements

If you’ve ever been in a corporate situation where one or more people feel as though they’re “in charge” even in a team situation, you have experienced the difference between an “I” and “We” focused environment. While this is pretty common in corporate situations, it shouldn’t be the norm on nonprofit boards. Building an ego-less board can be difficult. After all, nonprofit boards are often comprised of successful, strong-willed people, and getting them all in the same room and asking them to make critical decisions for your business can be asking for trouble. It is possible, however, to encourage your board to move towards a more “We” focused mentality by honing in on your overarching values as an organization.


Boardable CEO Jeb Banner writes about nonprofit board team

When you have strong organizational values leading a conversation, it starts to become more about the cause and the overall mission of a nonprofit rather than an individual’s ideas or status. Board members are no longer trying to one-up each other with ideas or suggestions. Instead, it becomes about the strength and value of your organization as a whole: we are empathetic, we are patient.

Connecting core values to board member cohesiveness

Conveying these core values to your board is incredibly important if you want to see this kind of cohesiveness. Nonprofits tend to emphasize their mission most of the time, but these core values help highlight the how behind the why. Core values are the behaviors an organization holds itself accountable to over time. A nonprofit board must have a clear understanding of these values to be able to start making decisions through a cohesive lens. Some boards also start to think of these values as a compass to help point them in the right direction. When faced with a fundraising opportunity, new sponsorship, or another similar decision, knowing how the nonprofit’s values will steer them can help keep board members on the same page and make these decisions easier.

Understanding the “tribal leadership” of nonprofit boards

Most commonly, this shift from “I” to “We” happens with an employee when they first start a new job. People always start off asking “What do you do?” or “How do you guys do this?” when talking about a company that they now work for. Then, slowly but surely there is a shift to “How do we do this?” This transition in language is a sure sign that someone is completely on the team and 100% engaged in the mission of an organization.

A nonprofit board operates in this same way. There is always going to be a period where board members are new and want to know about how ‘you’ do something. Then, there is a steady shift from an ‘I’m Great’ to ‘We’re Great’ to ‘It’s Great’ over time. This is also known as the Tribal Leadership framework. This methodology outlines five stages in the dynamics of a tribe (aka a team or a board) as it grows and changes over time. The end goal is to remove corporate ego from the equation to make a lasting impact.

(More thought leadership from Jeb Banner: How to Connect Board Members to Your Nonprofit Mission )

The Tribal Leadership framework stages are as follows:

  1. An openly hostile environment where “everything sucks.” People actively try to sabotage each other and make others look bad.
  2. A team culture where people are wary or antagonistic of change. It’s characterized by sarcasm, skepticism, and passive antagonism.
  3. A common stage where everyone is competing against everyone else around them. Each employee is a “lone wolf.”
  4. A work environment where people are ready and willing to work together against a greater competition.
  5. The ideal tribal dynamic is one where there is no “I” or “We” at all and instead everyone is working towards a larger goal.

While less than 2% of workplaces are in this elusive stage 5, well-known corporations with successful charitable arms are really good at removing corporate ego from the tribal dynamic. Companies like Patagonia or TOMS Shoes present a cohesive, inclusive framework to the public that makes the statement “We are all in this together. If you succeed and we succeed then we all succeed.” It’s this framework of thinking about the community that can move a nonprofit board towards a more unified, team-focused mentality.

Interested in how to make your board of directors more cohesive through the effective use of technology? Boardable is a software platform that centralizes all communication between you and your board. Find the best meeting times, securely store all of your documents, archive discussion threads and more—all in one place. Click below to schedule a demo with a member of our Boardable team.

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