Managing Tensions Between Board and Staff

Tension between board members and staff is not unusual. Often board members don’t have clarity on to how to engage with staff. This goes both ways, often staff struggles to engage and leverage the board. This tension can be particularly painful when the board chair and the CEO or Executive Director don’t see eye to eye.

Makiyah Moody, a consultant for LaPiana and BoardSource governance trainer, knows this issue well. In her recent article Ujima and the Board-CEO Partnership she addressed the challenges that board and staff have to navigate, particularly when roles and responsibilities are fuzzy and communication is subpar.

LaPiana worked with an organization that hired a new executive director whom had five years of experience as a program director. Just six months into his tenure, tension started to build between two board members. These two members, with good intentions, overstepped their positions. One thought it would be okay to show up uninvited at a staff meeting to “bring some board perspective” and another offered guidance about program evaluation without the new director being present.  This bred resentment and frustration in the staff.

Nonprofits must clarify and communicate board expectations, roles and responsibilities. In her article Moody says, “Role definition helps board members and staff operate within the scope of their own responsibilities, laying the foundation for a trusting, cooperative, and effective relationship.” Interestingly, Moody uses The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman to explain how people communicate and support differently. She finds that this relationship framework is a powerful tool for improving empathy and understanding in organizations.

Nonprofits can help enhance the relationships with CEOs and the board when they embed the idea into the organization's culture that every person has a responsibility to become more engaged. Boardable was created by nonprofit founders to help enhance board communication and governance. Just like Moody, Boardable’s founders are passionate about tackling and solving the many board issues organizations deal with. With a Boardable subscription, staff and directors have access to an inclusive dashboard, meeting scheduling tool, custom polls, discussion threads, and much more. Boardable’s platform has proven to be an effective tool to help CEOs and board members communicate effectively.

Organizations like BoardSource offer a wealth of tools, resources, research data and events to help increase board effectiveness. Makiyah Moody and David LaPiana will be discussing this topic at the BoardSource Leadership Forum in Seattle, October 18-20