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Noses in but Fingers Out !

Updated: Sep 30, 2021

Adapted from an article from Strive

Anyone else on the board could have guessed that Peter would be the one to ask why the English department was being moved from the main office to the Senior Staff room area of the school.

Two years ago, the board reviewed their governance approach and made the commitment to be a governing board.  With the time constraints of volunteer board members, they simply couldn’t delve into operations details without risking incompletion of their legal responsibilities to govern the organisation.  That, they discovered, was a big job in itself.

Yet, Peter struggled with how to have his “nose in and fingers out” of operations; which topics were appropriate to raise at board meetings and which ones would be labeled as getting his “fingers in”—like the concern about moving the English department.  Perhaps this was difficult for Peter because his wife was a teacher at the school and saw the day-to-day operations from a hands-on role.

His fellow board members were gracious as they gently reminded Peter of the board’s focus on directing the organisation and protecting its moral owners through policies as opposed to the Principal’s focus on implementation of these policies.  Peter provided value to the board due to his many years of experience as a Board member.  Nonetheless, the board chair wondered if there was anything else that could be done to ease frustration for the board and Peter.

What Can You Do?

  1. If board members begin to problem solve operational challenges, suggest that the discussion be taken outside of the board meeting.  Then, those individuals who have ideas may ask the Principal or CEO if they would want to hear the suggestions.  Remind them that the Principal or CEO is not required to implement any of their ideas.

  2. When questions about the CEO or Principal’s board report or other operational issues start to get into too much detail, move the discussion to the related board policy and ask if the operational matter is being handled within the parameters of that policy (or policies).  This keeps discussion at a high level and avoids the board making decisions which are the staff’s responsibility.

  3. Reassure board members that asking questions is an important monitoring method; however, that questions are to be for the purpose of determining progress towards goals, assessing the organisation’s adherence to policy, sizing up the adequacy of risk management activities or strategies, or amending and updating policies as needed

  4. Engage in periodic meeting evaluations where board members rate the board’s effectiveness at sticking to board policy discussion and agenda items.

  5. Invite the board to consider a mechanism for individual board members to receive performance feedback.  Who will provide feedback (all board members, the governance committee)?  How often will feedback be provided (annually, biannually, every six months for first year board members)?

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