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May 26, 2018

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Abstractions Of Board Decision-Making

 

It had finally come down to the vote. Which of the several options under consideration would be selected as the official forward path? You could feel the tension in the room.

 

The members of the Board had been wrestling with the upcoming decision for months. Each option and its supporting position had been promoted and championed by respective members on the Board. Each had merit. Each would move the mission forward. Each in a different direction. Regardless of the option chosen, this vote would be a decision impacting the organization for years, if not decades to come. Which made it a charged moment.

 

 

Parliamentary procedure was followed precisely, and the vote was taken. But what unfolded minutes later was revealing. And telling. It was apparent some members of the Board were uncertain as to whether the vote just taken had gone through a suitable decision-making process. Even after months of deliberation? Discussion ensued, becoming more lively and heated as the evening wore on.

 

Was this a parliamentary dispute? Or was there an underlying issue just now surfacing?

 

This Board was relatively new in its makeup. Eclectic and diverse, it was more representative than ever of the various constituencies served by the organization. The most recent members to join brought years of experience to the mix, having previously served on other boards across the sectors. They had that going for them. But perhaps this was also the source of the disconnect and dissatisfaction with the process leading up to the resulting vote.

 

While each member understood the parliamentary procedures of Board decision-making, it was evident that each held different preferences when it came to the philosophy of decision-making.

 

The post-vote discourse continued.

 

A few expressed their strong belief in consensus building. And their conviction that a final decision be unanimous, representing a 100% buy-in from the entire Board. So that everyone would have skin in the game with the outcome of this momentous commitment. These had actually pushed for a postponement of the vote until the last person was won over. With time running out, the decision-making behind this vote fell short of their ideal.

 

Other members insisted on integrative decision-making. A process based on an alchemy of shared values, historical precedent, industry trends and just plain "gut" intuition. They were looking for an alignment of different data points to satisfy their bent for a well-rounded, well-informed vote. Obviously, a few of the planets in the process were not lining up. This vote did not represent their preferred constellation.

 

Some, solely accustomed to vertical, hierarchical, authoritative modes of decision-making, stood squarely on the side of the standardized processes and outcomes. The system worked. The majority had won. The vote was final. So no further questions needed to be asked. Even if it wasn't what they had voted for. Duty called. Compliance and implementation was the next order of business.

 

And don't forget the nonconformists and independent thinkers at the table. The vote may have just been taken, but, as far as they were concerned, the important work of dissent was now beginning. Decision-making, from their point of view, was open-ended, fluid and evolving. Never final, conclusive or set in concrete.

 

The parliamentary procedures of Board decision-making had been followed "to a T." But the philosophical preferences of decision-making were being aired and debated. For the first time.

 

Was the philosophy of decision-making broached when the new members were recruited to join? Perhaps. Was there an opportunity to ascertain, during the vetting process, their individual preferences on the matter? Perhaps. Was an overview of the Board's current philosophy of decision-making spelled out in the new members' on-boarding and orientation phase? Or was it routinely addressed at Board retreats? Or was it a topic covered in ongoing Board development sessions on better and best practices of governance? Perhaps. Perhaps. Perhaps.

 

Or, as evidenced at this meeting, perhaps not.

 

Board decision-making is a complex, nuanced affair. While procedures and practices of polity are codified, the personal philosophies and preferences of Board members regarding decision-making are often abstract. Subjective matters of the heart, mind and soul. Which is fine, until those abstractions become actualized---for the first time---at a Board meeting. Then the abstractions are deemed the source of confusion, consternation or conflict. Annoying and to be avoided. Or, instead, recognized as an asset to co-opt. A constructive catalyst for change. Essential to invigorating and infusing the process of Board decision-making with fresh insights.

 

By the way, how you handle the abstractions of decision-making is a decision for your Board to make. Are you ready to make a motion?

 

Follow @JoeMazzu3 on Twitter and Instagram. Visit intentionalconsulting.com and learn more about his business serving nonprofits.

 

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