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Use a Consensus-Building Approach for Tough Board Decisions
The average board of directors meeting includes discussion and decision making where the vast majority of board members are in agreement. However, every board faces tough decisions from time-to-time and smart people can have differing opinions. Some boards take the philosophy that a simple majority should rule. While bylaws may allow this approach, it can cause lasting problems if a minority group feels its voice was not heard. Consider the following consensus-building approach that can transform an adversarial issue into a cooperative decision-making process.
  1. Define the problem – This may sound simplistic, but unless the board can first agree on the actual problem at hand, you risk running in a circle. Having a clearly articulated problem statement with board agreement must be the first step in the process.
  2. Set the stage – This can be an overlooked but critical step of the process. The board should review background information and possible options prior to the meeting, allowing everyone the opportunity to understand the facts and options. Also prior to the discussion, acknowledge that it is a difficult issue, agree upon the decision-making process and encourage board members to be open to changing their minds. The group may also want to consider a neutral facilitator for the discussion.
  3. Lay out options – During this part of the process, multiple options should be presented. Board members should ask questions and provide opinions, and the board president or neutral facilitator should lead the discussion.
  4. Seek points of agreement – Finding the points of agreement will create cooperation and good will in the beginning of the process and will set a positive tone for the more difficult points surrounding the issue.
  5. Work through the tough points – The group will need to narrow the solutions during this step and be willing to compromise. If the larger group is having difficulty, a smaller group can be selected to bring solutions back to the board.
  6. Agree – The key is to find a solution that the board can live with and support. The final decision does not have to be unanimous, but the vast majority of the board should be in agreement. Those that do not agree should at least feel their voices have been heard and be able to publically support the decision.
  7. Follow up – As the decision is implemented, communication will be critical to ensure ongoing success. Members of the board will want to know the impact of their decision and if any course correction is necessary.
Working through tough decisions as a board isn’t easy, but it does not need to be confrontational or disrespectful. While the consensus-building model takes more time than getting to a simple majority, it can ensure that all voices are respectfully heard. It is important to reiterate that it is not necessary for every board member to like each decision, but they should be able to live with the decision and support their colleagues during the implementation. The consensus-building process can help make that a reality.

 

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JANUARY 2014 EDITION
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Board Forward is published 10 times a year by SmithBucklin, the association management and services company more organizations turn to than any other. SmithBucklin has served volunteer board members for more than 60 years.

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