The ‘ideal’ board and how to achieve it

MAY 2017. In the first part of this interactive workshop, Maria Teresa and Susanne used a presentation with the Key Success Factors for Association Boards (from the Ellwood Atfield survey of 2015) as a basis for discussion.  These were identified as flexible association governance, successful leadership, ideal Board composition and effective decision making.

They underlined that the Board should be focused on strategic and not daily management issues, it should work for the better good of the association and its members.  A successful Board would include members with clear task allocation and responsibilities, and it would also be diverse in its composition.  Finally, the succession of Board members should be anticipated and include an initial orientation session, whilst all Board members should participate in an annual session to develop strategy. Finally, the possibility of the evaluation of Board member performance was evoked thought this seemed more relevant for professional societies than business associations.

The presenters then described 11 factors for disruption identified through experience as representing the main challenges faced by association leaders.  These included a lack of respect or power struggles between Board members, the promotion of a “personal” or “company” agenda over that of the association and Board members that “micro-manage” the secretariat.  A lack of transparency in decision making was also mentioned as well as a disproportionate focus on governance and procedures.  The conclusion of the presentation was that there was no “one size fits all” solution.  However, association leaders would learn how to recognize early warning signs and be able to apply the solutions discussed.

Download the presentation here.

The audience was then divided into 3 groups addressing the following questions set out respectively with the break out session results below:

group 1

What process is used to elect members to your Board, and has it proven to be successful? If not, what would you change? Once the new Board members are elected, how do you prepare them to serve, to set expectations, and how do you allocate roles and responsibilities?

Identify the best practices: do’s and don’ts.

Break out session findings:

Participants had discussed several scenarios.

  • They advised that elections take place based on nominations from association members and the main committees. These should then be validated by the General Assembly. Another approach would be to “promote” committee chairs to the Board every two years.  It was also noted that the Board should avoid including more than one member from the same company or of the same nationality.
  • The President and Vice Chairs of the Board could also be nominated by the committees with a subsequent endorsement by the General Assembly.
  • The Board composition could also be based on the principle of a Board membership per member association or company.
  • Another scenario was based on the rotation of Board seats where, out of 10 seats, 5 would be “permanent’ to ensure the continuity of decision making, whilst the remaining 5 seats would be allocated on a rotating basis for each company or association that did not hold a “permanent” seat.
  • The final scenario that was presented by this group was that of a “self-selecting” Board composed of no more than 7 members who trust each other.  This approach would not require the intervention of the General Assembly and the Board members would not hold veto rights over each other’s nomination.

group 2

Have you ever had a non-performing/disruptive Board member and how did you handle the situation? How did the other Board members handle the situation? List the disruption and possible solutions/advice.

Break out session findings:

  • Board members should ideally be of “CEO” level.
  • Federations were less problematic than ‘direct company membership organisations because the national association leaders had a better understanding of the challenges faced by the Secretary General of the European level association and were more likely therefore to “go with the flow” and avoid disruptive behaviour. However, disruption was also seen as positive since it was likely to polarise opinions and therefore ease decision making when voting took place on the basis of a simple majority.
  • Board members with a common background got on better with each other and were less likely to seek to control each other.
  • There is no golden rule for Board member selection and nomination but it is important that the respective roles and functions of the Board members be very clear and transparent and that they be empowered to fulfill them.
  • Develop ad hoc solutions using diplomatic skills and don’t forget your sense of humour when dealing with challenges!

group 3

Have you ever experienced difficulties in managing your Board? How did you overcome them? List the difficulties and propose solutions.

Break out session findings:

  • A lack of interactivity amongst Board members could be rectified by asking each individual Director to report back on the fulfillment of their respective mandates at the Board meeting.
  • Should there be unnecessary and long discussions on activities outside the competence of the Board, Group 3 participants advised the creation of a “technical Board” to review non – strategic activity or, requesting Board members to send written reports in advance of the Board meeting.
  • On dealing with “egos”, participants suggested the creation of new positions such as “Vice Chair” or “Honorary Chair”.  Another suggestion was the creation of “pins” to be placed on lapels showing the level of contribution achieved by that individual. A third suggestion was to create ‘special awards” based on merit and involvement to be presented at the General Assembly.
  • Board member “twinning” had been successfully used when members presented varying levels of education or competence.
  • Finally, one participant described a situation when the wives of two vying Board members got involved in the fray.  This was indeed a difficult one to handle with great sensitivity!


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