If you are an athlete, a sports fan, or played in a rec league as a child, you know that each sport requires a different number of players, different types of positions, and use different equipment. You cannot expect to excel at one sport and jump into another without knowing what you are getting into. While the fundamentals are the same, soccer and baseball are two very different sports. You can view a Board of Directors in the same way.
For example, maybe you have been on an association’s board of directors, so you think you can seamlessly volunteer on your child’s school board. But, not so fast! It is important to recognize that not all boards are the same. Perhaps you have never volunteered on a board before but are interested in sitting as a director. Whatever the case, there are some important things that you should know. I would like to introduce some of the different ways boards can differ from one another, such as the size of the board, roles of the directors, geographic representation, and meeting communication.
Boards can be comprised of many or few directors. Typically, board size ranges from 6-20 members. In my experience, having a board size of 8-11 directors is ideal. This size allows for roles and tasks to be clearly defined. When you are working with a smaller group, directors are required to wear numerous hats. This can affect their overall productivity and ability to get complete tasks in time.
On the flip side, having a larger number of directors can also have a negative influence on productivity, as it can lead to a lack of motivation and purpose. With that being said, the size of the board ultimately comes down to the association’s mission statement and values and what is required to achieve their goal. This could mean that you may see a board with three board members or thirty. Ultimately, the size of the board can successfully and adequately fulfill its purpose.
While most boards consist of similar roles, there can be some differences. For instance, having an executive committee is standard. Its existence is essential across most boards. An executive committee provides structure and delegation, which is integral to maintaining strong board composition. Executive committees generally consist of a president, president-elect, and treasurer. This dynamic trio is appointed with authorization and responsibility to make decisions on behalf of the board.
At the same time, it is not uncommon for such a committee to also include a past-president, secretary, or a member at-large. You may also see the title of chair in place of president, depending on the board. Other differences could include the assignment of board liaisons. Sometimes directors are appointed to sit on committees or special projects to report back to the board. Another distinction is that some associations can be managed by an association management company (AMC), while others can operate independently. If the association works with an AMC, the board may also include an executive director.
For more information on AMC’s, visit my colleague’s article here.
Geographic representation is also a factor that changes a board’s composition. Directors can represent the local school board, a national association, or an international organization. Depending on where board members are located in relation to others can affect many aspects of the board’s operations. This can include the time at which meetings are held. If all directors live in the same city, meetings can easily be scheduled to occur at an opportune time for all, such as over the lunch hour.
However, if the board is composed of directors living in other countries across many time zones, scheduling a meeting becomes a lot more challenging. One director may be calling in as the sun rises while another is ready for bed; be prepared for anything. Language can also be a factor to consider. In a country where there are two official languages, it is important that there are directors who speak both languages to represent the needs of all members.
The way directors receive their meeting documents can vary. There are a few different methods of delivery that can be effective depending on both preference and accessibility of the board. Some boards prefer receiving an email with the agenda and all related documents attached, while others may prefer a different approach. Online platforms are quickly becoming the preferred way of conducting business in today’s technology-driven world and board conduct is no exception. Using an online service, such as BoardEffect, allows the majority of communication to exist in one place, including all meeting documents, limiting the number of emails going back and forth leading up to a meeting. Another way to share documents is with cloud file sharing. Taking this modern approach to deliver documents ensures that they are readily available with the click of one link.
For more on cloud sharing, visit my past article Less Is More – Facilitating Board Meeting Productivity.
As you can see, boards can differ in a variety of different ways. As you reflect on your experience with a board of directors, can you think of any other differences? I hope after reading this, you are now ready to volunteer on your first or next board. Batter’s up!