Yesterday I lamented that we all feel we don’t have time to think. And that the reason we don’t have time to think is that we don’t make time to think. Which is to say that we don’t value thinking near as much as we value doing.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the board rooms of Community Benefit Organizations.
Last week alone I was coaching two different board chairs who were concerned that their boards did not want to discuss “vision.” In both cases, their board members had told them outright that they thought the discussions of vision would be a waste of time; instead, they wanted to focus on DOING something.
In both those cases, the chairs chose the road less taken. They both stepped back from “doing” to facilitate the question, “If we were 100% successful, what would our community look like? What would be different? For whom?”
In both cases, the meetings were more energized and engaged than either of the groups could remember being.
And in both cases, the groups said afterwards, “We needed this. It provides context. It is a different way of thinking, but that is precisely where we need to be.”
This goes directly counter to what “experts” tell boards they are supposed to be focusing their precious time on. Boards (and many governance gurus) see such discussion as a luxury they wish they had more time for but “our board members are so busy and we have so little time together that we have to focus on what’s important…”
It may be fine to consider such exploratory, open-ended conversations at the beginning of an annual retreat, but boards insist they cannot afford to spend time every month on this “touchy feely” stuff.
And you know, I would be ok with that if the current means-and-doing-focused board work were actually creating results. But we all know that is not the case.
(If you are viewing this in email, here is the video link.)
So where can a board even start? What first steps can a board take, to begin to change the “means and doing” focus to a focus on the difference they want to make in their community?
The simplest step is to start your meetings with a meaningful question. Spend even just the first 10 minutes discussing that question. Not a report, not a speaker – real discussion. Time to think. Time to focus.
Start with energy about the difference you want to make. And let that guide the rest of the board’s conversations.
Some of the most interesting consideration of Boards as Learning Communities happens at Debra Beck’s blog. I recommend it as a great source of inspiration for boards who want to spend more time thinking.