Friday, April 16, 2010

Executive Committees Walk a Fine Line

WHEN I READ THIS TWEET "The only board members who like the exec. comm. are the ones who are on it!" I had to admit I agreed with it.  Afterall, what's the point of serving on a board if all the important and interesting discussions and decisions are had by a few leaving the rest of us to suffer through report meetings?  Who wants to be just another pretty rubber stamp?
Executive committees walk a fine line.  Typically consisting of the board's officers, they are often indispensable in times of crisis.  Big organizations with big boards quite rightly find that smaller "steering" committees serve important oversight functions.  In this instance, the make-up may go well beyond officers to include committee chairs and others (and the size of a steering committee could be as large as a small full board).  But as a routine decision-making body acting on behalf of the full board, an active executive committee can alienate or isolate the rest of its board.
I have worked for and with many organizations where the full board meets every other month or quarter and the executive committee meets on the intervening months.  Or where the executive committee AND the full board both meet every month -- how's that for duplication?  Any one of these scenarios begs these questions:  If there's so much board work to be done that the executive committee needs to meet just as often or MORE often than the full board, why isn't the full board meeting more frequently?  Or is the executive committee working on a specific crisis or issue that was not assigned - or could not be assigned - to another committee or task force?  The distinction is very important and must be made clear.
And then there's the issue of burn-out.  Meeting after meeting, particularly if duplicative, is such a waste of energy and talent.  Since great board members are seemingly hard to come by, why intentionally overburden them?
If your executive committee is a stand-in for full board meetings, making decisions that a full board should be making, stop the practice for a few months to see if it makes any difference.  If work gets backed up, that's an indication that the full board needs to be meeting more frequently.  If your full board meetings become more engaging, then you've become the beneficiary of "less is more".  Who wouldn't love that? 

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