(Team) Building Better Boards Outside the Board Room

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By Dee Kring, CAE, CMP

In my many years of working in association management, and especially now that I work for an association management company and serve multiple associations on a daily basis, it is clear to me that not only is there an association for everything, but every association and its culture is very different. In my role as Executive Director, I interact closely with the Board of Directors comprising many unique personalities, and I’ve learned that it is important to foster healthy relationships both in and out of the board room for overall effectiveness.

How do we do this?  If you ask anyone their reasons for being an association member, “networking with industry peers” will be on the top of the list.  It is no different with our Board of Directors. Although most would say their decision to serve is mostly about their ability to contribute to their industry/profession, the opportunity to interact and work with their peers in the same endeavor is also a key contributor.  Unfortunately, oftentimes the only networking opportunities provided to our members and volunteers happens over one-too-many drinks at the nightly noisy cocktail reception or the lobby lounge.  Truly connecting is difficult in this type of environment.

What about a team building exercise? When we think of team building, what comes to mind? Breaking out into groups to see which group can build the best structure using limited materials provided? Having each person taking turns sitting in the “hot seat” while airing their personal and professional grievances and perceptions (or misperceptions) to the rest of the group? How about the dreaded and dangerous trust falls?  I’ve seen them all!

Team building does need not be an uncomfortable activity.  In fact, it does not need to be an “activity” at all!   Unless your association is the equivalent of the National Association of Cross-fit Coaches, you may err on the side of caution and not plan strenuous physical activities for your group. In addition, recognize and appreciate the differences each individual in the group brings to the table. Rather than forcing an introvert to participate in an uncomfortable situation, allow them to participate at their own pace.

Providing a venue for the group to gather and share in an experience outside of the boardroom is really all you need to encourage team building.  These experiences can help them to get to know one another on a more personal level, developing trust and camaraderie, which will materialize around the board table.  Board members who feel comfortable around one another, who feel safe to share their opinions, and who have a better understanding of the personalities in the room, will be able to more effectively communicate and participate in board discussions and decisions.

One association board I work with is very different in that it is solely a board, there are no members and there are no conventions.  This board is comprised of individuals from all over the country and their daytime jobs and volunteer responsibilities are very demanding.  This group participates in monthly board calls and several additional monthly committee calls, and only meets in person twice annually.  Without the conventions, CE programs and other events that membership associations typically have, it is important for this group to connect on a personal level during their limited face-to-face time.

Recently, this group began dedicating a day of team building to their biannual in-person meetings.  From touring a plantation in Charleston to exploring the red rocks in Sedona, the time spent together outside of the boardroom has helped to strengthen bonds and form new ones.  One new board member who recently participated in a team-building day said “As a new board member, participating in the event in a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere helped me to get to know the other board members on a more personal level and I felt more comfortable afterwards in my seat at the board table”.  Another longtime board member also appreciated the benefits, saying, “It encourages camaraderie and facilitates openness, trust and teamwork”.

Of course, as every group is different, so are their budgets.  Should your organization decide to incorporate a team building event, there is much to do with a limited budget, including having the member pay a portion of their participation fee.  Keep in mind; however, that if your board members are volunteers, this is an excellent non-monetary way to show your appreciation for their contributions while also benefiting the board and the organization as a whole.

So the next time you find yourself looking around the boardroom and wondering how you can help cultivate stronger relationships and produce more efficient meetings, consider how you may be able to incorporate team building events.

Dee Kring






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