Collaborate: How to Enhance Board & Staff Working Relationships
(while still maintaining clear lines of communication, roles, and responsibilities)
I do a lot of strategic planning and board governance work with nonprofit organizations and a common thread coming out of those sessions, where both board and staff are present, is how great it is for them to be together in terms of developing a deeper understanding of each other and each other’s role within the organization.

As one chair of the board at a session put it:

‘From my perspective, I appreciated the opportunity for board members to connect with staff in a meaningful way. It was hugely beneficial for me and personally satisfying. I think if we learn nothing else, we should learn from that and create more frequent opportunities for that kind of engagement. I think it helps invigorate board members and makes what we do more real, and I think it will lead to better governance.’

I’m not for a moment suggesting that we blur any lines of communication, and in fact, much of my work is helping boards to understand those lines. I do believe we can have both intact lines of communication and a better team of board and staff working together!

So, what can we do to increase the opportunities for meaningful and collaborative engagement?

Here is what some organizations have found helpful:

  1. At each board meeting have a staff member attend and talk to the board about what their job really looks like on a daily basis including their successes and challenges. Each month a different staff person does the same thing. This need not be more than a 10 minute event.
  2. Hold some form of professional development gathering with both staff and board. This might be training on specific topics, team building activities and strategic planning. A strategic plan that has been arrived at by both staff and board will have an incredible amount of ownership and engagement.
  3. Have a board member attend any professional development that staff attend.
  4. Introduce any new board members to staff.

And my friend and colleague, Melanie Beth Oliviero, Strategic Advisor, suggested these brilliant ideas as well:

  1. Include the staff in selected portions of regular meetings of the board and/or designate one board meeting for a joint convening.
  2. Create debriefing sessions for staff and board following an event in which both participate (can be couched as an informal get-together).
  3. Ask the staff to suggest a scheduled activity to which board members can be invited.
  4. Invite staff to create a workshop specifically for the board members showcasing examples of the organization’s work.
  5. Host a social event for the whole team — staff and board.
  6. When mutually desired and feasible, organize a retreat for the whole team — staff and board — to collectively consider specific organizational programming or strategy.

I’d like to note that through conversations with Melanie about her ideas, she wisely highlighted ‘the misstep that can occur when the executive team announces to the staff: “We are having a retreat.” That can poison the process before it begins. The discussion of whether or not a retreat is welcome and useful needs to be inclusive of all participants. Alternatively, a retreat can be built in as a customary event, but even that is less constructive than collective decision-making’. Melanie is truly a collaborative process expert!

I encourage you to implement one or more of the ideas above and watch the benefits of increased collaboration, engagement and ownership within your organization.

If you have other ideas that you’ve used successfully please let me know and I can share them with the readers of this blog.

Stay well and all the best in this new year!


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