I have recently drafted a chapter for a book I am co-authoring on strong and effective governing local church, college, and not-for-profit boards. The title of the chapter just completed is, “Board members ask the Right Questions.” I am interested in your comments to the core thoughts of the chapter outlined below as I work to revise the draft. Click here to read the full chapter. I welcome your examples of effective and non-effective governing boards. Change the names to protect the participants! Are there other examples of “good questions?”
The chapter builds on the assumption that outstanding boards shape great leaders and outstanding leaders embrace strong boards. This assumption requires that both leader and board ask the right questions of each other. In candor, for this assumption to work itself out in the leader/board relationship, Christian maturity and mutual respect is required.
Good questions. Honest questions. First Questions.
“What do board members do? How do board members do what they do?” How do board members know what they are supposed to do? ” Knowing the responsibilities of board members is the first step in strengthening the governing boards on which the individuals serve.
What is the mission of the church board on which an individual serves? What is the vision for the congregation? Is there a strategic plan for the church that has been approved by the governing board and congregation? Board members ask good questions that lead to strong policies and decisions with a laser beam commitment to the organization’s mission vision, and values.
Questions about the Responsibilities of the Board
Strong and effective boards think and work in the three modes of governance.
Responsibility #1: Fiduciary. Fiduciary responsibilities ensure that legal and financial integrity is maintained and includes oversight of the church or institutional finances and the approval of an annual operating budget. Is a realistic operating budget in place?
Responsibility #2: Strategic. The board does not have to develop a strategic plan for the church or organization. The strategic planning process may be pastor and staff-led or arise from a board committee. It is the board’s responsibility, however, to insure that a strategic plan is in place. Are we proactive and intentional in strategic planning? Does the operating budget reflect the priorities of the strategic plan adopted by the board?
Responsibility #3: Representative. This responsibility is rooted in the values, traditions, and beliefs of the local church, school, or organization. Does this program reflect the values of the denomination? How does this expenditure facilitate the making of Christ-like disciples in our community? How is the ethos of the church communicated through these programs? Are the decisions violating the values of the congregation?
‘Sense Making’ and ‘Problem Framing’ Questions
Strong and effective board members ask questions help them make sense of the issues before them and frame the problems in ways that bring focus and intentionality to the discussions.
1. Who are we?
2. Where are we?
3. Where are we going?
4. What is our end goal?
5. How will we get there?
6. Why is it important to get there?
7. How will we know when we get there?
Shape the board agenda as appropriate to receive committee reports. However, the board agenda should be developed intentionally by planning significant time during the board meetings for regular, purposeful discussion of key questions. Questions like:
1. How would we define the “ethos” of our local church or organization?
2. What are we thinking or dreaming about the church or school?
3. What should we be our concerns about our local church?
4. What is success – given our congregational mission, vision and values?
5. What’s going on?
When you engage these questions or topics, the board meetings are more substantive and focused on the strategies needed for the mission and vision implementation as opposed to being dragged down by the drudgery of detail by just managing the organization.
Strategic Questions in “Crisis Situations”
John Dewey proposed that, “A problem well defined is a problem half solved.” Strong leaders are not afraid of “tough” questions from the board and to the board during these times of crisis, questions that look back, evaluate the present, and anticipate the future.
Evaluate what happened.
1. What is the real issue? (Too often we deal only with the symptoms)
2. What is the question?
3. How is this crisis helping our people to develop spiritually?
4. What are the facts?
Determine where you are presently.
1. What are your expectations…?
2. What do we see as the major challenges to our church during this crisis?
3. What is the outcome we seek from this crisis?
4. What are the consequences if we are wrong?
Anticipate where you want to go
1. What are the possible solutions to this crisis we are facing?
2. What are we doing that is essential for the future of our local church?
3. What are we not doing that is fundamental to the mission of the local church?
4. What needs to change?
Relational Questions (that need to be asked)
Let’s probe more deeply. As you think of the people with whom you work on the board, who do you have the most difficulty accepting? What kinds of people are hardest for you to accept?
1. Why do you think this is so?
2. How do you think this makes God feel?
3. How do you think God sees that person—or those persons?
4. How does your response affect your own relationship to God?
Pastors, school leaders, and organization directors often work with their governing boards in the creative and growth producing tension of holding to your vision for the future while holding just as firmly to the realities of the present, including board members who differ, and often collide, with the leader. In the process of working through this tension, the leader and the board can experience the transforming, redemptive and reconciling work of God in their relationships. What a powerful witness to believers and unbelievers alike!
Think questions. Not just any question, strong and effective board members ask the right questions. The questions presented in this chapter are only models. Each board will shape the specific questions needed for a particular time and setting. Boards may not have immediate answers to the fiduciary, strategic, or representative challenges before them as a governing board. They must, however, have the right questions.
E. LeBron Fairbanks