Four Elements of Effective Governing Boards

Governing Boards, particularly those that do not consist of political appointees and work effectively, seem to have several common elements that help to ensure they stay effective.

First, they have well-defined and appropriately structured committees where the work of the Board rests. In some Boards, most of that work falls to an executive committee, which effectively establishes two classes of trustees—those who have a say and do the work and those who do not.

Second, they have terms and term limits to ensure the Board doesn’t become stagnant and to make it much easier and more graceful to remove members, who may not be performing at an acceptable level.

Third, they have clear expectations for members of the Board and adhere to those expectations.

Fourth, they have a clear understanding of the talent and experience they need on the Board, match members against those needs, and ensure there are no “gaps” in the expertise needed among Board members. They use this information to inform the selection of new trustees.

Finally, they don’t “settle” in recruiting Board members—they seek to bring on the strongest possible members (not simply their friends or associates) with the talent, knowledge, diverse perspectives, and experiences that the Board needs to do its best work.

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