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Cultivating Group Responsibility

The Board must act as a single entity. To achieve this, the board members must learn to think together. This requires group responsibility. The ultimate in group responsibility calls for the board members to act as a collective, rather than a collection of individuals.

Creating this collective authority is a bear! Working through issues to ensure that all of the board members are contributing and that the group arrives at a mutual conclusion is a tricky process. There are many group dynamics that hinder the group’s thinking together. To do Policy Governance well, the board must pay attention to its group dynamics and group process. There are many techniques that a board can use to achieve group responsibility for keeping itself on track.

Here are a few of the Group Responsibility topics you may be looking for:

  • How to discuss things that really matter

    There are a number of great methods of helping groups of people think together strategically. It sounds like a no brainer but can actually be rather challenging. In most cases it includes things like listening well, sharing your perspective but also seeking to understand others, thinking of the goal as group wisdom rather than things going your way, and belief that the collective can make better decisions than the individual (or why bother with a board?)

    One set of excellent principles and values is the Facilitative Leader developed by Roger Schwarz. It too is a principles based system and it too takes some education and learning but the payoff of a board working as a true strategic team can be phenomenal. If you would like to explore the Facilitative Leadership here is a link to their website: www.schwarzassociates.com

  • How to reach shared wisdom

    The goal of the board’s process is to focus and deliberate about issues critical to the organization’s future. The board’s job is to think together, rather than thinking alone. How the board chair facilitates a discussion is one key to finding shared wisdom, but just as important is how board members around the table embrace the task of thinking together.

  • Focus and deliberation

    All too frequently, the board’s agenda is filled with lots of ‘stuff’. When there is a lot of ‘stuff’ to get through, the board can’t focus OR deliberate. Careful construction of an agenda is important to allow the board time to focus on the right ‘stuff’. We believe that the agenda should allow enough time for the board to learn about a priority issue together, make sense of the data collected in terms of its application to the organization, then figure out at least three potential options for action through policy.

    When you have only one option on the table requiring an up or down vote, leads to debate. When you have two options, the board will likely debate the merits of the two options. Finding a third or fourth alternative is where wisdom emerges. When multiple options are on the table, the board can then have generative dialogue…a conversation that yields group wisdom.

    To learn more about thinking together, we recommend a book by William Isaacs, Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together.

  • Facilitating a generative discussion

    When the board chair is highly skilled in facilitation, the board’s deliberations can rise to that generative level as mentioned above. Once again, one of the best resources to develop these skills is the Facilitative Leader developed by Roger Schwarz. Short of this specialized training, we suggest orchestrating the process so that your board can think creatively.

    Tools that can be used to include lateral thinking—looking at the issue from multiple perspectives such as the politics, quality of life, and symbolically OR financially, who wins/who loses, and ethically. Native American culture teaches us to assure that four perspectives have been shared before a community resolution is found. The four perspectives are the big picture or long term impacts, wisdom (applying lessons learned from the past), caring and nurturing of the community (who wins/who loses and have we mitigated those losses), introspection (what does my heart tell me about this approach).

    What we know does not work well is going around the table (round robin) and asking each person, “What do you think?” This approach usually leads to group think and opinions unsupported by the ownership’s value system.

    You can also read our short article Preparing for Board Deliberation

  • How to deal with a violation of your own policies by a member

    When a board member is steps across the line of integrity to policy, it is the whole board’s responsibility to bring that individual back into alignment with policy. It is not just the board chair’s job to address it, this belongs to the whole board to address. Many Policy Governance boards have a policy that says, “The board will allow no officer, individual or committee of the board to hinder or be an excuse for not fulfilling its commitments.”

    Accordingly, the members of the board have to be vigilant to its own integrity to policy and address peers who inadvertently or intentionally step away from that integrity.

  • How to help the board stay on track

    A natural trend in any system is that the system deteriorates over time (entropy). Recognizing this, it is critical for the board assure that it gets “booster shots” regularly. Examples of booster shots might be:

    • Conducting a “board rehearsal” using scenarios from The Board Members’ Playbook written by Bill Charney and Miriam Carver.
    • Discussing articles from Board Leadership, a bi-monthly newsletter for Policy Governance boards, published by Wiley and Sons, available on a subscription basis.
    • Watching and discussing a segment of a Policy Governance DVD, available through the International Policy Governance Association (IPGA).
    • Attending the IPGA annual conference as a whole board.
    • Having a board retreat to focus and recalibrate your board’s practice of the model and organize for the next year’s work.
    • Conduct regular self-assessments of board process in alignment with your policies and with the 10 principles of Policy Governance®.
    • Have an external consultant who is trained in Policy Governance to observe your board in process and assess model-consistent practice.

    You can also read our article Moving Policy Governance from Understanding into Full Integration

    Or check on your progress by accessing our tool Policy Governance Startup Checklist