We've all experienced a rut. You fall in and it seems like all you do is spin your wheels in that proverbial ditch. It can happen with the best nonprofit boards as well.
You know it’s happening when… You've been talking about revisiting your vision, mission, and values statements, for like… forever! When you've gone through several board members in the last year and you suddenly find half your team is gone. When your meetings consist of nothing more than business as usual, or when your query for questions on the Treasurer's report is met with silence. When members are more interested in their mobile devices than the discussion at hand, or when you spend the majority of your board meetings discussing reports or policy rather than the future of the organization. Yep, you guessed it; these are all signs you're in trouble.
An organization can hit these speed bumps at any stage in their lifecycle. It's easy to become mired in minutiae, tactical details, or malaise rather than a big picture that creates excitement and enthusiasm. Here are some Hip Tips to get you out of that rut and with a little luck, perseverance, and strategy, steer clear of it!
Nothing gets a group more excited than a higher purpose, a common goal, or shared vision. As explained by Peter Senge, in his book The Fifth Discipline, a shared vision is: "the capacity to hold a shared picture of the future we seek to create" (1990: 9). As such, a shared vision has the power to be uplifting and to encourage experimentation and innovation… It works to transform your nonprofit into a learning organization, which continually evolves and grows.
When a vision is shared, "People talk about being part of something larger than themselves, of being connected, of being generative. It becomes quite clear that, for many, their experiences as part of truly great teams stand out as singular periods of life lived to the fullest. Some spend the rest of their lives looking for ways to recapture that spirit." (Senge 1990: 13)
Routinely revisit and refresh your vision, mission, and values. Work to get your team excited about a new project, strategy, program, or campaign. Just as important is finding evidence of your impact to the community you serve. Evaluating and understanding your Triad of Value will guide you to better service and better service creates a sense of purpose, which leads towards personal fulfillment and deeper commitment.
Embrace Opinion and Encourage Debate
Beware when all you encounter is agreement. If your meeting conversations lack strong opinions, passion, or questions and if they are generally measured, or worse, nonexistent, you may have a problem. These may be signs that your team lacks the enthusiasm to rise beyond the day-to-day agenda and consequently, is just going through the motions.
Despite what some may think, spirited debate means your members have genuine interest and concern. Difference of opinion creates a pathway to creative solutions, better understanding, evolved thinking and strategy. Remember to remind everyone to do their part and ensure they "understand what the other side is saying."
Also understand that diversity and inclusivity run deeper than you may think. You need to involve each member of your board and other stakeholders at a deeper level. There are demographics beyond race and ethnicity that shape a person's culture; great ideas and understanding can come as a result of a range of experience.
Recognize, Utilize, Reward, & Celebrate
Nothing drives a board member battier than when they offer their expertise only to have their experience and talents rebuked or ignored. More importantly, your organization may falter as a result. Understand why a member wants to be involved and create a position that provides satisfaction for that member. People are your MOST valuable asset. Anyone who volunteers and makes your organization a priority should be celebrated and nurtured.
Take note that some individuals may desire to learn something new or perform something different from their day job. As my father used to say, "You never know unless you ask", so ask! If you desire to maximize your team's effectiveness, dig deeper by getting to know each of your members on both a personal and professional level. Then, encourage the rest of your team to do the same and you'll create a winning atmosphere.
Look Beyond the Playbook
Often policies and procedures are the focus of board development. That's because aside from being good governance, they are tangible and much easier to get your hands around than really important issues like strategy, or impact. A good foundation for your organization is important, so make sure you have a copy of Robert's Rules; apply them during your meetings to give them weight and importance. Just understand that policies and procedures don't necessarily create an effective organization. People do! Inspire them, employ their talents, and reach for the stars!