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Serving on a Global Board
Serving on a board of directors with members situated around the world involves multiple considerations, such as language barriers, time zone challenges and cultural influences. But the benefits far outweigh any challenges as international board members bring diverse perspectives, ideas and experiences that contribute to the board’s effectiveness. Additionally, it is crucial for an organization seeking to grow its global membership to have a board that reflects and represents members’ voices throughout the world.

The following tips will help board members maximize their work within a global boardroom:
  1. Account for cultural issues – Beginning with onboarding new board members, all should understand that the board is an open and safe environment to share opinions. In some cultures, business leaders have strict systems of hierarchies and will defer to their superiors to make decisions and offer opinions.
  2. Use technology tools – Use all of the technology tools available and always be on the lookout for more. Since international board members do not often have face-to-face meetings, find technology that provides virtual face time. And include social media as an option. For instance, some board members now respond better to direct messaging through Twitter than email.
  3. Communicate clearly – Any significant decisions should be preceded by written exchanges and plenty of opportunities for questions and answers. Also, speak loudly, clearly, slowly and decisively on conference calls. Do not use slang or colloquialisms. For example, outside the United States, expressions like, “that was a homerun” or “throwing a curveball” are often meaningless. If there are significant language barriers, repeat points as necessary. While using webinars or other virtual meeting technology, take advantage of chat features that allow members to type questions or ask for additional clarity, which are then sent to a moderator or all participants on the webinar.
  4. Clearly defined purpose for in-person meetings – For in-person meetings, which should only be held when necessary, the board must clearly define the meeting’s purpose. This will help members justify the need for the travel and secure approval. And because international travel is often more expensive compared to domestic travel within the United States, receiving approval can be more challenging and require more lead time for international board members.
  5. Heightened sensitivity regarding availability – Board members of global organizations must be accessible 24/7/365. With people calling in from around the world, it is important to attend scheduled board meetings on time and run the meeting efficiently by following the agenda. For instance, fairness dictates that not all conference calls can be at 2 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (when it is 3 a.m. in Tokyo and 11:30 p.m. in New Delhi). Also, when setting meeting dates, take into consideration that Europeans often take extended vacations during the months of December and August.
Coming together openly and respectfully, your international board will build positive and sustainable relationships around the globe, establishing a sense of unity and shared purpose that will translate to tangible benefits for your organization.

 

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JULY/AUGUST 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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