Associations operate on trust between the CEO, Chair, and board members. In our new virtual world, we are losing that in-person connection opportunity. How can boards build trust the trust in each other that allows them to make decisions based on the expertise that each board member brings to the table? Oxford Dictionary defines ‘Trust’ as “a Firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something. Relations must be built on trust!

Through the pandemic, associations marched on. They’ve adapted to the brave new word of virtual meetings, virtual events, and virtual annual general meetings. They’ve also operated in ways which they have not historically operated. Board terms are written into an association’s by-laws, so many board members have finished their terms on the board and new board members have started. Can you create trust within among new board members if you’ve only met virtually?

I’m not sure I have a definitive answer or solution for you. However, I truly believe that trust is gained when you can have a face-to-face conversation with someone and get to know them professionally and personally.

Face to Face

Working for an Association Management Company (AMC), I’ve experienced a few associations that stress the importance and value of that personal and in-person interaction building. One national client that we worked with as an AMC made it clear during the transition that it was clear that they had a slight idea of what we were to do for them, but we had a contract in place that laid out our responsibilities in detail.

During the transition and for several months after, they realized that they weren’t clear on what they needed us to do for them. We sat down with them and worked it out. One of the executive members of the board resided near the office so we started meeting regularly in-person to discuss the business of the association and their needs. The face-to-face interaction on a regular basis created a level of trust that allowed us to work through any issues or challenges. It also allowed the executive member of the board to put a face to the names of the team servicing them. I know I have different conversations over the phone or virtually after I’ve had the opportunity to meet that person face-to-face. Our relationship is stronger now because of the trust garnered from them in our in-person interactions.

Trust Among Board Members

Associations recruit NEW board members that have a level of knowledge and expertise (Subject Matter Experts (SME)) and can lend that expertise to the board and the strategic initiatives the board is working on. The operative word here is NEW. Bringing new members onto a board when you are only meeting virtually is a tough thing to do. Virtual meetings aren’t really designed to foster that chit chat that occurs when attending an in-person meeting. It is those in-person interactions that create an opportunity to build trust between board members. Learning about a board member and their personal interests allows you to connect with them and develop a trusting environment.

When a new board member presents their expertise at a virtual meeting, if they have not had a chance to develop that level of trust by other board members it makes it difficult for them to bring their SME to the “virtual” board table.

To learn more about How to Keep Virtual Board Meetings Engaging, read my colleague’s article.

How to Mitigate the Challenge of Building Trust at Virtual Meetings?

Do a round table discussion on the virtual platform where board members answer questions that paint them as individuals. What do they do in their spare time? What are their hobbies? Ask family questions about partners, kids, and pets. Ask questions about their work environment.

As soon as you can, start planning your next in-person board meeting and allow time for board members to connect. This also depends on if your budget will allow it (many associations have been adversely affected financially from the pandemic). Build in casual conversation at dinner. Preferably, order in and rent a larger space (room or meeting room). This allows for casual and relaxed conversation and team building.

Trust is key in any relationship and association boards are no different. Be aware and do what you can to develop and build trust within your association!

For more information on healthy communication on association boards, read The Importance of Clear, Concise, and Timely Communication.