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Four Modes of Thinking about Board Governance

4-strategic-arrows

I have been thinking recently about healthy and maturing boards of governance for ministry organizations, including local church boards and college boards of Trustees. Increasingly I am convinced that healthy and maturing boards have a balance in the board membership between four modes of thinking about board governance: fiduciary, strategic, representative, and reframing. When boards are comprised of a predominance of one of these four modes of thinking, then the board, and organization, suffers.

Most of us serving on boards would like to think that we are strong in all four areas. What we need to increasingly realize is that we need people who “think” differently than we do to insure that the balance required for healthy and maturing boards is present. We prefer to serve with people who think and act like us! One sure sign of a strong board is when one member says to another, “I don’t understand what you are saying, but I think it is important, and I need to listen to your perspective. Help me understand.”

These four modes of thinking and governance may be briefly summarized as follows:

 

FIDUCIARY MODE: The word, “fiduciary” is a legal term. It’s goal is to insure the legal and financial integrity of the organization. Being a fiduciary implies that the board serves as a steward of the mission and the future of the organization, and its tangible assets. This mode insures that appropriate audits are performed, and focuses on issues such as Articles of Incorporation/By-laws/Required Government Documents/Payroll and Insurance documentation/Property, Legal, and Financial compliance/Board minutes, and mission clarity.

STRATEGIC MODE: In this mode of thinking, the board serves as planning partner with church, college or ministry organization leader. Being “strategic” implies that the board is proactive and intentional in strategic planning for organization. The board does not necessarily prepare the strategic plan for the organization, but assures that one is current and serving as a roadmap for the future. This mode focuses on mission/vision/priorities/strategic initiatives/ timeline/personnel and budget.

REPRESENTATIVE MODE: This mode of thinking represents the legal and moral owners of the organization. The “representative” thinker especially appreciates the heritage of the church, college, or ministry organization. This mode of thinking serves as the “guardian” of values in the organization. In this mode of thinking, the board remembers why the organization was founded, and seeks to “conserve” the organization’s founding purpose.. History is important to the “representative.”

REFRAMING MODE: This mode of thinking seeks to “ reframe” the presenting problem, and “make sense” of the issues by connecting the dots. The “reframer” tries to identify the “big” picture or issue, and seeks to serve as a “problem-framer.” Often, this mode of thinking will attempt to “re-envision” the situation with implications for the future. Thinking in this mode often compels the board to “restate” the presenting problem in a “big-picture” context.

 

The model of the “Four Modes…” clearly indicates the cyclical relationship of this way of thinking in board meetings. It is not linear in nature. Issues can arise in any of the four areas. Important, however, is that these four dimensions, expressed appropriately with civility and care, and a “laser beam” commitment to the organization’s vision, most often brings out the best in the board and provided for a more thoughtful, collective response to the agenda issue.

I welcome your comments to this blog either in the comment section on the blog, or to me directly at lfairbanks@boardserve.org.

Comments

Donna Alder May 11, 2015

I think of the representative thinker as one who promotes the interest of his constituency. What does the district that elected me wish to see happen in this institution? What does the general constituency of the Church of the Nazarene hope to watch unfold here? Sometimes this is easier to define than other times.
The reframing mode can often be the subset of any of the other modes. Feduciary people can ask what is the underlying question that needs to be addressed that manifests itself in budgetary discrepancies.
Agree that each of these in one board creates a healthy balance. Implementing the accomplishment would be a real coup.

Clark Armstrong May 14, 2015

Hi, Lebron! It is really hot today at APNTS. Wish you were here…ha!

This is an excellent diagram and it is certainly improved by not being linear. I am going to use it with your permission in my class on Strategic Planning in June. I want it to reflect a little more the idea of Christ as the Head and Leader of the organization. How will I best do that for ministry training? Is it OK to put a cross and a dove in the middle or something like that? Thanks.

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