The Importance of Board Culture

Nonprofit leaders often spend time thinking about and supporting a healthy organizational culture based on common values and shared expectations. But while culture is typically focused on the staff, board culture, which is a subset of organizational culture, can be an afterthought.

The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) has a comprehensive article that defines and outlines what culture means and how to cultivate it.

“An organization’s culture defines the proper way to behave within the organization. This culture consists of shared beliefs and values established by leaders and then communicated and reinforced through various methods, ultimately shaping employee perceptions, behaviors and understanding. Organizational culture sets the context for everything an enterprise does.”

Now, think about your board. Has your board determined the proper way to behave with alignment on values and expectations?

Working with hundreds of organizations over the last two decades has given us insight into this dynamic, and we have often seen what appears to be a separation of cultures between the professional staff and the governing board.

We have seen strong chief executives who continue to grow the knowledge, effectiveness, and impact on the staff side only to be mismatched with a board that has not followed the same evolution and maturation. The board can be stuck in the past, dominated by one or two voices, and for the most part, disengaged. And sometimes it’s worse — the culture can be toxic.

How does this happen?

Sometimes the chief executive focuses so much time and energy on the people, the culture, and the work of the organization that they have no time or energy left for the people, the culture, and the work of the board. I had a chief executive say to me “I love everything about my job, except for the board.”

But it should not be all on the chief executive’s shoulders.

The board should take responsibility for developing and sustaining a competent board. The board chair and governance chair should be investing time and energy in fostering a culture of inquiry and ensuring good governance is happening in constructive partnership with the chief executive. Board composition should be strategic and the board meetings dynamic, because how a board spends its time is critical for engagement and impact.

BoardSource outlines several facets of a healthy board culture, which include:

  • a culture of inquiry
  • a healthy and respectful partnership between the board and chief executive
  • trust and candor between board members
  • thoughtful and productive resolution of issues or disagreements
  • a willingness to address poor board behavior that is negatively impacting the board

Think about the nonprofit organization that you serve. What is the culture at the staff level and at the board level — do they align and are they healthy?

If so, what will you do to ensure this continues? If not, what will you do to impact change?

Article by: Kerri Laubenthal Mollard, Founder and CEO

2022-03-17T18:15:30+00:00March 17th, 2022|