Board self-assessment in three easy questions, but not so easy answers

Over the years, I’ve noticed an odd psychology to board self-assessment. Leadership hopes for a glowing report or, at the least, more praise than criticism. Yet when the outcome is as wanted, there’s grumbling from some around the board table about time and money wasted on a bunch of happy talk.

Apparently there’s not much to be learned from good news, if you believe the naysayers.

But please don’t.

who_has_the_answer_5653The truth is that high-performing boards pull a ton of insight out of a positive assessment. Ineffective boards, however, dig in, deny, and learn little from evaluation. It’s no surprise that good boards tend to get better while not-so-good boards generally stay as they are.

If your board experiences have ranged from one end of the performance continuum to the other, you know it’s easier (and a lot more fun) to nudge a board from good to great than to shove a mediocre board toward good. However, that’s not a reason to limp along with sorry board performance, even if a full-blown self-assessment seems a long shot in your setting.

Wherever two or three champions of good governance gather, improvement is possible. In fact, it doesn’t take much to get the ball rolling. The following three questions, if answered with candor, can be enough.


  1. What boardroom practices got us to where we are today? Before attempting a leap forward, it’s important that a board reflect on the recent past. For strong boards, the backward glance affirms best boardroom practices. It’s an occasion for celebration of faithful and faith-filled governance. For weaker boards, an honest look to the past exposes ineffective practices. It’s an occasion for repentance of less than fruitful board work.
  2. What boardroom practices are holding us back? Strong boards strive to be better and weaker boards should want the same. But while you’re busy doing what boards do, yesterday’s best practice morphs into today’s problem. There’s value in putting everything (by-laws, board policies, committee structure, meeting agendas) on the table for review – not often, but every once in a while. Shaking things up with intentionality can jump-start a stalled board.
  3. What boardroom practices will propel us forward? The best boards are on the hunt for how to become even more effective and thanks to the internet, ideas for improvement are easy to find. An abundance of resources are a link away and mostly free of charge. In fact, the challenge for today’s board members isn’t finding help, it’s narrowing the options to what’s best suited to their goals and board purpose.

Self-assessment that includes (or is) these three questions can set a board on a course for improvement. Any board. Even yours.

For more on evaluation, boards, and insightful questions, see:

All hands needed on deck and noses, too

The role of edgy questions in strategic planning

Finding your organization’s future in its past

What's your take on this topic?

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