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Collaborate or Die: Building a Collaborative Board

It is so easy to say that our Board is going to be collaborative and work better together this year. The hard part is defining what it is, what it looks like and how it is done. There is no magic in making this happen but there is a lot of good work to build a collaborative mindset that is magical. Building the mindset in turn builds a great team and a great team innovates through great collaboration. But, how do we get there?

1. Recognize Dysfunction – The biggest thing for a Board to recognize is that regardless of how well it works together, there is a level of dysfunction. Identify and try to eliminate the following top three dysfunctions

  • Getting into the weeds: Leave the “how to” to staff at Board meetings and focus at a 30,000 foot level at all times. If you have no staff, focus on strategy for the first half of the meeting and execution during the last half of the meeting. Always make strategic thinking a priority
  • Flawed decision-making: Data is central to decision-making and how many times do we make decisions without data? See this articlefor more detail on how to use data in your associations effectively
  • Difficult leaders: Every organization has it share of difficult leaders. Some are well intentioned and some are only there to wreak havoc. Recognizing difficult leaders for what they are and making significant changes is critical to a high-performing Board. Just as you would in your companies and organizations, “hire slow, fire fast”, is the only way to ensure that collaboration will win over discontent

2. Identify the “Right” Candidates – Successful collaboration starts with the “right” team in order to produce the best results. Identify the right people with the right skill sets. Also, focus on diversity so that you have different backgrounds and perspectives. Finally, be sure that it is representative of the membership and a good cultural fit. Beware of putting too many chiefs in the same collaborative group. A Harvard Business Studynoted that, “We found that the greater the proportion of experts a team had, the more likely it was to disintegrate into nonproductive conflict or stalemate.” Interesting quote and speaks to the importance of a well-rounded team where each member of the team has a unique skillset and contribution to the team.

3. Set the Stage for Collaboration – It is important to define the roles of the team, the key players and to provide them with an orientation that directly speaks to outcomes. Finally set ground rules so that the group agrees to a set of meeting best practices. Here are some best practices to consider:

  • Do not meet for the sake of meeting
  • Set agendas and timing; stick to it!
  • Distribute materials in advance
  • Set ground rules
  • Set in place a project manager for the team to ensure that progress is being made
  • Identify someone as the team leader that is an expert facilitator
  • Follow up on action items and keep everyone accountable
  • After each meeting, take a pulse and determine if the meeting was productive and the efforts are moving closer to achieving the goals set

4. Getting to Consensus: Great collaboration is just about having a great team and great meetings; we have to agree, don’t we? Or agree to disagree and move on. Consensus is defined by Dictionary.comas:

noun, plural consensuses.

  1. majority of opinion: The consensus of the group was that they should meet twice a month.
  2. general agreement or concord; harmony.

There needs to be an understanding that most of the time, there will be some level of disagreement. But, the group also has to understand that even though there is disagreement and the consensus is to move forward, all of the members of the group will then support the decision in harmony. This is difficult for some to accept but contributing to a great collaborative team is to ability to put aside egos and understand that it is not about just one person but the team.

5. 80% Rule: Use the 80% rule during meetings by setting the understanding that if a topic is “80% there”, then the team can move on to the next topic. This means that in concept, we have discussed it, agree and we can refine it later but in essence it is shaped enough to move on and we agree. Refining it can happen by one person or a smaller group of the team at a later time but don’t waste any more time on something that has agreement in concept. Leave the word-smithing to the smaller group of the team. There was one meeting I witnessed where this rule was set and it was broken by a Board during a strategic planning session just one time. The Board chair stood up and said, “Do you know that we just spent an hour going from 80% to 81% and was that a productive use of our time.” Imagine if we broke that rule three or four times where it translates into three to four hours of wasted time on editing rather than strategizing.

6. Make Tough Decisions: Making tough decisions is what happens when good work and innovation happen in teams. Try to keep the following at the forefront:

  • Keep the mission and goals of the organization or the project at the forefront of the discussions
  • Be open and receptive to hearing all viewpoints; don’t shut down but expand the conversation
  • Collect date to make an informed decision
  • Support the group decision on the vote has taken place regardless of your personal feelings
  • Make fact-based, data driven decision the rule of order for the meeting, which helps to eliminate personal agendas, conflicts of interest or emotion

Former Apple CEO once said, “Build an organization that eventually builds itself.” He also talks about loving what you do and doing it with a great team. Regardless of how much you want to collaborate, great collaboration comes from building a great team. Amy Poehler, actress, comedian, director, also sums it up quite well by saying:

“As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.”How will collaboration look and feel like for your organization in 2016? Bring great collaboration to your organization in order to make breakthrough impact on how you provide relevance and value to your members. How will it change the lives of your leaders through doing good work for your organization?