When board members go AWOL between meetings, try this.

The complaint I hear more than any other from nonprofit execs and/or board chairs is this:

Board members disappear between meetings. Poof! They’re gone. Most can’t even be bothered to respond to my message with a one-word reply: “received.”

Sound familiar?

If so, I point you in the direction of a Harvard Business Review article that’s jam-packed with good ideas for getting teams (yes, a board is a team) to follow through after a meeting. Here’s my “cliff notes” version to pique your interest — author Paul Axtell’s words in quotation marks, mine in italics.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

“Start by ending the meeting with clear agreements on specific actions and completion dates for each item.” The first couple of times, others on the board may not take the assignments seriously. But stick with the practice. Shame is a powerful motivator.

“Keep a running tally of which items get done.” And by whom. I know I praised shame in the above, but one-on-one conversations with board peers who consistently drop the ball is a kinder, gentler approach. Ask if s/he prefers that you re-assign the work and when they say “yes,” let them go with a smile – even if the assignment falls on your shoulders.

Axtell urges compassion.

Each person on your team [board] has a complex life — much of which is unknown to you. . . By being interested in each of your colleagues, finding time to chat, and working to understand their current reality, you can gain their respect and permission to ask them to do what they say they will do, reliably — almost every time.

“Role model the desired behavior and continually remind people of what is expected.” As a former board chair, I know that modeling good board behavior is harder done than said. To paraphrase – board chairs who live in glass houses . . . you get the idea.

“Getting to a higher level of completion on action items leads not only to exponential progress toward goals, but also to a tremendous sense of accomplishment — both personally and for the group.” In other words, boards and board members at their best.  

If you give Axtell’s tips a try, let me know how it goes. I promise more than a one-word reply.

For more on encouraging the best from your board, read:

It takes a team to win the board game

Rules of engagement for board and staff

Helping the CEO isn’t job one for the board

What's your take on this topic?

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