BOARD RECRUITMENT QUESTIONS WE AREN'T ASKING
High-performing boards that bring wisdom to their organizations act as “think tanks” and value group dynamics. Through the exchange of multiple perspectives, boards eliminate blind spots and reveal keen insights.
They are dedicated to collective work.
In addition, high-performing boards speak with one voice.
They understand that there is no individual opinion or authority in effective board governance. They focus on creating an environment that maximizes participation and team work.
During recruitment processes, most board members are asked about their professional backgrounds, availability and other skills, usually according to a profile or checklist.
While this information is helpful in determining whether a candidate is a “good fit,” it falls short in setting expectations and identifying traits essential for building an effective team.
In Governance as Leadership, Richard Chait suggests an approach to board member recruitment as
“one that stresses quality of mind, a tolerance for ambiguity, an appetite for organizational puzzles, a fondness for robust discourse, and a commitment to team play.”
So it seems there are important recruitment questions we fail to ask!
Could several of these inquiries enhance conversations with candidates?
- Quality of mind: What helps you do your best thinking?
- Ambiguity: Describe a situation when you were a member of a team dealing with an ambiguous issue where there was no clear direction or solution?
- Appetite for organizational puzzles: When have you participated with a team in solving a complex, multi-faceted problem? What happened?
- Fondness for robust discourse: How comfortable are you in robust, civil discussions when different, and perhaps oppositional, opinions are expressed?
- Commitment to team play: Describe how you supported a team decision you did not agree with.
- Listening skills: (Observe the candidate’s ability to listen during the interview.)
- Collaboration: Describe how you served as a catalyst for collaboration.
- Devil’s advocate: Describe how you’ve played the role of devil’s advocate.
In addition to understanding candidates’ traits and preferences, these questions begin to position expectations for board members and their collective work.
This indepth exploration of candidates helps us determine an appropriate mix of characteristics for the board team. A board full of individuals comfortable with ambiguity creates problems just as a board full of devil’s advocates.
If the work our organizations are doing is important at all, then certainly the process we use to recruit the individuals who have legal authority for and oversight of our work is among the most critically important activities we undertake.
Recruitment exploration must move beyond the basics of profession and demographics.
How can you better explore the traits and preferences of your board candidates?
For more information, I highly recommend Governance as Leadership, Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards by Chait, Ryan and Taylor, BoardSource, 2005 and The Practitioner’s Guide to Governance as Leadership, Bulding High-Performing Nonprofit Boards by Cathy A. Trower, Jossey-Bass, 2013.