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COLUMN

WESTON COUNTY GAZETTE


BILL TAYLOR
9/5/08
BOARD CONFLICT

Tensions develop between board members and the chief executive for many

reasons. Board members may be unclear about the difference between

governance and management and grab onto and try to exercise authority.

Chief executives who are unclear about the board's roles and responsibilities

may interpret requests for additional information as a lack of trust in their

competence, a lack of respect, or a lack of appreciation for their work.

When board members have no established way to give feedback to the chief

executive, they may express concerns about performance in harmful,

counterproductive ways. And in the absence of agreed-upon communications

protocols, chief executives are likely to feel that they report to 12, 20, or 33

separate bosses rather than one board.

Board members also may behave in ways that make collaboration difficult.

They can be bullying, frequently critical, require hand holding, and demand

inappropriate information in unreasonable timeframes. Or sometimes it just

comes down to the chief executive and one or more board members being

unable to get along - their styles or values are too different.


As with any conflict, the solution is to get people talking and listening to one

another and having conversations about the real issues.

To avoid or resolve tension, board members and chief executives should try

the following:

1. Clarify roles. Just as good fences make for good neighbors, agreement

on boundaries supports the chief executive-board partnership. Discuss issues

as they arise about where the chief executive's authority ends, where the

board's authority picks up, and what falls in the grey area between the two.

2. Strengthen the partnership between the board chair and the chief

executive. This relationship often sets the tone for all interaction between

the board and the chief executive.

3. Establish working relationships between the chief executive and

each board member. The chief executive should know each of the board

members well enough to know who to go to for help in a specific area, and

whom to alert when a topic of particular interest is going to be discussed.

4. Agree on where the organization is headed. This can be done by

making time to discuss vision, strategy, and policy. Many effective boards
cite the importance of regular strategic planning as a way to create time for

these discussions.

5. Evaluate the leadership skills needed in response to emerging

needs. The board and the chief executive should talk about how the

organization's future needs shape the work of the chief executive. Achieving

the expectations may require the chief executive to develop new

competencies. If so, part of the discussion should focus on how she will get

the help needed to master the new skills.

6. Evaluate the chief executive annually. An effective evaluation

process is based on annual goals that have been agreed upon by both the

board and the chief executive. A designated individual or committee should

carry out the evaluation.

7. Discuss problems as they arise. The board chair should consider

convening an executive session to discuss the board's concerns and then

share the concerns with the chief executive, asking for her point of view.

Together, the board chair and chief executive then can develop a game plan

for how to address the concerns before they escalate.


8. Undertake regular board self-evaluations. The self-evaluation

process assesses the board's governance practices and helps to focus the

board on the priorities established in the plan.

9. Ensure that board members have access to the information they

need to serve the organization. In addition to information about finances,

program performance, and legal compliance, board members need to know

about matters that have public relations consequences.

10. Use outside expertise when necessary and appropriate.

Consultants and funders can play pivotal roles in helping to resolve conflicts.

The United States Department of Agriculture, the University of Wyoming, and Weston
County Extension cooperate.