Skip to main content


Showing posts from September, 2008

Can Nonprofit Boards be High-Performing Teams?

I first read Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith's book, The Wisdom of Teams , years ago when I was preparing to lead a team of museum educators through a five-institution collaboration. Ever since then, I've asked myself whether or not boards of directors can meet the standards the authors identified as critical to the high-performing team. The Wisdom of Teams looks primarily at the for-profit workplace and how groups of workers combine in teams to get work done.  Teams function at a variety of levels -- or not at all -- from the innocuous working group , whose purpose is to share information, to the high-performing team , which can reach astounding feats of accomplishment. Okay.  We know boards are groups that come together to get work done.  And some boards are highly effective and productive.  But since boards members are serving voluntarily, would they ever have enough skin in the game to be one of Katzenbach and Smith's high-performing teams? And do they need to be anywa

Shiny Object Syndrome. Do you have it?

If you search the Internet for the term "Shiny Object Syndrome" you'll learn that it refers to the penchant many people have for latching onto the latest tech toys and social networking media no matter the cost in dollars, time or productivity. Email and websites?  Old school.  How about Facebook, Flickr and Twitter?  What's next and how fast will it get here?  Applied to the world of cultural organizations, how well will shiny objects facilitate relationship-building among and between audiences? When used in the broader context of attention diversion, Shiny Object Syndrome (SOS, for short) has been alive and well in the organizational environment for a very long time .  SOS can just as easily be about introducing costumed interpreters to increase visitation as it is about inaugurating a wild and whacky fundraising event to bolster the bottom line.  Funders, too, are all potential shiny objects.  In other words, shiny objects can take an organization to the next level

Values and Principles - An Organization's Bedrock

When you see these two words - values and principles - is your first inclination to say they are the same thing?   While they share a critical connection – in that you can’t have one without the other – there is an important difference between the two.   And, it might be quite important to know the difference when thinking about your organization. When we talk about institutional values , we’re talking about strong and enduring beliefs based on assumptions or understandings about what is worthwhile or desirable.   For many nonprofit cultural institutions, values tend to focus on understandings such as respect, excellent, authenticity, community, education. Here’s the values statement from the Ohio Historical Society: Customer service and focus Respect and opportunity for Society employees Excellence Action- and results-oriented Authenticity Teamwork and partnership Continual learning and improvement It’s unlikely that these value

Row, Row, Row That Boat!

An analogy I like to use -- and thus often make -- is one that likens board and staff leaders to the oarspeople of a rowboat.  Without a coordinated effort between the two, the boat spins in circles. When a board president and an executive director are unable to synchronize their work -- if not their vision -- all the maneuvering in the world will not get the institution from point A to point B without a huge expense of energy and time. If you've been fortunate to have a positive relationship with your institutional counterpart, you know that the rowboat can not only make it from here to there, it can do so faster and far more efficiently.  You might never have imagined you'd be responsible for an oar, or that the person you're paired with gained responsibility for an oar.  But here you are:  sitting together in the rowboat that is your institution, in the middle of the lake that is your community; your part of the nonprofit sector.  There are other people in the boat, too

The Empty Chair

Since a governing board is first and foremost about group decision-making, frequent absences of board members undermine the basic tenet of what a board does.   Yet many boards turn a blind eye to the situation, often ignoring their own rules regarding attendance. If board members have difficulty making meetings, then it seems to me that there must be easier ways to keep them engaged in the work of the organization without holding the board and senior staff hostage to their attendance.    Chronically absent board members make it difficult for boards to achieve the quorums they need to legally accomplish business, thus thwarting decision-making. If that weren’t enough, the organization loses out on the benefit of their input at the times it might most be needed and, in turn, absent members lose out on the benefit of their peers’ points of view.   Thoughtful work to bring cohesion to a board can be undermined by the frequently absent.   The morale of those board members who faithf