Boardrooms often are a microcosm of the larger world, and today, the larger world is filled with political and social division and the lingering stages of a life-changing pandemic. The stress and animosity that this environment sometimes creates may intrude on the work your board is trying to accomplish.
To keep board culture healthy amid all this polarization, it’s important to communicate frequently, nurture authentic relationships, facilitate respectful disagreement, and tamp down small tensions before they turn into larger conflicts.
Torey Carter-Conneen, CAE, CEO of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), said a healthy board culture is all about communication.
“There has to be communication and conversations with the board more frequently,” Carter-Conneen said. “I think that it’s imperative, because if you leave it to the board meetings alone to have conversations, it just lends itself for things to fester.”
ASLA holds quarterly town halls between board meetings. “I have a board of 60 people, so I break them up and do small-group conversations, across regions, across practice areas, just to get them connected to one another,” Carter-Conneen said.
Volunteer leaders also need to get to know each other. To help with that, many associations hold board retreats with ample time for storytelling.
A retreat for the board of the National Air Duct Cleaners Association “built a personal connection that allowed you to see that a person shares something in common with you or [helped you understand] why they can be difficult in the boardroom or maybe why they don’t speak up—whatever those personality traits are,” NADCA CEO Jodi Araujo said. “It greased the wheels a little bit, got everyone comfortable, and really led to a moment of bonding.”