Is 11 too many on a board? The frustrations of dealing with boards

If you’ve ever had to work as staff to a board, you’ll understand this one.

A staff member was having trouble getting people to actually attend the board meetings. She wondered if a smaller board would be easier to gather.

This was the discussion in a peer group that I was participating in as a guest. We talked about a lot of factors. Is 11 too many people for a board? How long were the meetings? What happens there? Are there penalties if a member misses a meeting? 

And then I think we found out that the real problem is the meetings themselves. Meetings are getting longer and longer as committees report in with extensive reports. They make loans, so thick financial reports and reviews of loans happen every single month.

That bring us to the question: What is the most productive use of the full board’s time?

Can just a few members (don’t call it a committee) review the financials and loans before the meeting? Can there be a financial briefing the day before where anyone can ask any questions they like? Can we do that briefing by conference call or video conference?

If you call it a committee, people will think it’s a committee and it will act like a committee. There’s a lot of mental baggage around the word “committee.” We think that means a chairman, with members serving a minimum of a year with regular meetings, lots of discussion, little action, and making reports.

Better to have a group, a team, or a couple of people. Ask them take action and then tell about it. Don’t ask for them to have a meeting. For goodness sake, don’t ask for their report. Tell them this isn’t like a regular committee.

Help the teams be clear on their purpose. Explain how you want to hear back from them. You don’t want a long report to read to the board. You want to hear the text message length version of what they did. 

The real question isn’t whether 11 are too many on a board. The real question is, what is the best use of a full board?

What is important enough to gather all of them? What conversations and work matter so much that all the board members will want to make time to be there?

Keep shaping the future of your town, 

PS – We’ll be talking about anti-committee ways to get more volunteers in our next webinar at SaveYour.Town. I hope you’ll join us.