Monday, November 29, 2010

Fostering Good Board Ideas

IN HER RECENT BLOG POST "Where good (board) ideas come from", Debra Beck links to a great video (you've just got to watch it) and poses the questions "Do we nurture breathing room and value insights shared amidst the rush to check reports off the agenda? Do we foster opportunities for good ideas inside board members' heads to make it to the surface so they can be connected?"
Thoughts of inspirational discussions and deep-diving into issues that were cut short by a too-full agenda and not enough time came flooding over me as I read Debra's post.  Yes, I've been in those situations and I look back on them with mixed emotions knowing that some great conversations will never be rekindled and some organizational energy was lost.
So, how can we build in time for idea generation, rumination, and synergy at the board and staff levels?  Here are some of my thoughts:
  • It's counter-intuitive, but the space to spark and nurture ideas needs to be planned.  We like to think that idea generation is improvisational, spur-of-the-moment, a random act -- and yes, it often is that.  But, it's one thing to react creatively to a stream of conversation and quite another to take ideas to the point where they might actually put down roots.  If you can pluck an idea from the stream and get it in some terra firma in 30-45 minutes, then do it, otherwise it'll float away.
  • The best ideas are often borne from seemingly opposite perspectives.  That's one of the reasons why board and staff diversity is so important.  An organization can expand its perspectives by making space for periodic or ongoing stakeholder meetups and think tanks.  I see great potential in gathering together a variety of people to focus on idea generation around specific organizational issues -- not committees per se and maybe not even task forces, although they might well function as a task force.  It's the perfect blend of planning and improv.
  • There are organizations (although I don't know any personally) that have "blue sky" committees -- formal groups just for knocking around ideas and creating new connections.  I like the idea, but they'll only work if there's some supporting structure around them that can absorb the best ideas into the organization's culture.
  • The coffeehouse, retreat and salon are idea incubators that many boards and staff don't use enough.  After-hours brainstorming and ruminating are best done in relaxed settings.  Where better than the neighborhood restaurant, a cabin in the woods or someone's deck?  There just needs to be a plan in place to move the good conversation to another level for nurturing.
  • I'm also intrigued by the town hall concept, where a large group of people work on one or more issues with the guidance of facilitators.  What would be gained by the local museum holding a town hall or two a year?  I think a lot.
How is your organization capturing and fostering good ideas?
Photo:  yes and no from *_Abhi_*

Saturday, November 20, 2010

An "Aha!" Moment in Strategic Planning

WHEN DO "AHA" MOMENTS COME FOR YOU?  If they rolled up on your doorstep with unfailing regularity, you'd take them for granted.  They wouldn't elicit an "aha!" at all.  But real "aha" moments, for me at any rate, come after stretches of concerted problem-solving and reflection.  They more often occur as a prolonged unfolding of understanding rather than in one flash of insight.
So it was with a strategic planning committee I'd been working with for months.  Our regular meetings were moving well through the obstacle course of mission refinement, goal development and strategy creation.  But it wasn't until we were buried knee-deep in strategies and tasking that some very forthright conversations started to take place.
As the morning fog lifts from the landscape, this team began to articulate  -- as a group -- that its resources for at least the short-term had to be spent on strengthening its organizational core.  Board and staff development, along with financial management and planning, were without question a top priority.  How will board leadership be chosen?  What is the role of a nominating committee in a 21st century nonprofit?  What approaches can be employed to integrate all fundraising activities?
The animated discussion around these and dozens of other questions was unlike any other meeting of this committee.  Was it because we had moved from the theory of strategic planning into the very real realm of practice?  I think so.  We began to see where and how earlier decisions about mission, goals and strategies would need to be played out.  We began to make concrete connections between all the plan's elements.  But, it didn't happen until now -- now as we near the end of the formal planning process, where tasking strategies challenged us to connect all the dots.  Aha!!

Photo:  AHA from St_A_Sh