By: Melissa Lagowski
Big Buzz Idea Group
Congrats on carefully selecting and approving new board members for your nonprofit organization! You have every reason to be excited about this ideal blend of leaders who are all passionate about your cause and ready to do great things. The next step is to hold a board retreat.
Cohesive leadership teams don’t just happen; they are the result of serious intention, and much of this work is the result of proper onboarding. Your annual retreat brings new board members “up to speed” on the organization while providing a way for all members of the team to get to know each other.
But in the days of distancing, is your board still functioning at high capacity in a virtual space? Are you finding that board members feel disconnected from each other, or worse yet, the organization? To foster a high functioning team for your association, utilize these ideas to build deeper connections and maximum participation.
Don’t forgo the board retreat. It might not look the same, but it is still an important tool to properly prep the board members for the year ahead. Alternating between presentations, breakouts and engagement exercises will help keep everyone actively participating. Structure the flow of the event to keep the agenda moving and consider throwing in a surprise or two throughout the day to build excitement and enthusiasm for your leadership team. This could be as simple as turning organizational stats into a trivia game or inviting members that you serve to share video messages and testimonials.
One of the things I miss the most is the few minutes before and after each board meeting when members can make idle chitchat and learn more about each other on a personal level. Encourage your board members to have one-on-one meetings with each other throughout the course of the year. If they break the meetings down into monthly activities, it will make the task less overwhelming, and it will help all of leadership to learn more about each other (including why your organization matters to each of them).
On the Agenda
Consider putting a few minutes on each agenda to have board members talk about their business. Usually, leadership comes together for their regularly scheduled meeting but only have time to discuss the work of your organization. It is useful for the team to learn more about each member so that they can understand everyone’s skills and talents in a more comprehensive manner. When you know about each of the players, it can help everyone understand the strengths and talents of the individual board members and how those strengths will benefit the whole.
Many of you have probably had a strategic leader facilitate your board retreats at one time or another, but there are also team-building engagement facilitators who can help your board members function at a deeper level by teaching them more about how to engage with one another. This might involve taking an assessment and analyzing different work styles, but it is typically comprised of activities and conversations that reveal more about each leader. If your organization can afford the investment, an engagement facilitator can be a fun and memorable way to build a more cohesive leadership team.
Whether your group prefers coffee or cocktails, consider bringing the board together quarterly or bi-annuallyfor a virtual social. This is another way to be intentional about getting your board to connect on a personal level, bringing back the casual conversations that previously took place at in-person gatherings.
These connections strengthen the bonds between and within the board for the benefit of the organization. A board of directors who knows and trusts each other is more likely to open up and participate in meetings. As peers, they will be more comfortable speaking up when they don’t understand something and even challengesomeone’s initiative to have the difficult-but-necessary conversations to lead the nonprofit effectively. In fact, even when we return to in-person board meetings, you might still want to utilize these simple tactics to create a more unified and cohesive board.