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Jan 1, 1970

An association’s board of directors has tough decisions to make. The organization’s vision, value proposition, and overall strategy all fall into in the hands of the board. On top of that responsibility, board members have to collaborate to make decisions. That can be a challenge in itself!


If you serve on a board that struggles with decision-making, try this five-step process. A structured approach will help to generate solutions, build consensus, and move your association forward.


  1. Clarify the Association’s Goal

When a board must act decisively, there is usually a problem. Perhaps the association is losing money or members. To begin the decision-making process, rework the problem into a goal. The board isn’t fixing a problem, they working toward achieving a goal that benefits the association. Not only does this approach minimize unproductive blame-placing, it also positions the conversation in terms of positive action.


When defining the goal, make sure to be as clear as possible. We’ve all been in meetings where conversation strays so far that you have no idea what the purpose of the meeting is! Lot’s of conflict can stem from simply not being on the same page. Thus, clarify the goal that the board needs to address.


  1. Generate Possibilities: The Blue-Sky Technique

Once the board arrives upon a single goal to achieve, next is to brainstorm strategies and techniques for achieving it. The blue-sky technique is a great way to get as many ideas on the drawing board as possible. The idea is simple: board members simply give their ideas: big ideas, any ideas—the sky is the limit. It’s crucial that there is no discussion or critique at this phase. Everyone’s voice is heard, everyone’s ideas honored. Despite the gravitas of decision-making, many boards find this process quite fun.


  1. Find Focus: The Common Thread

Now that everyone’s ideas are on the table, it’s time to narrow down the possibilities. Do this by identifying commonalities. If the goal is to increase revenue, perhaps many of them focus on member recruitment rather than non-dues revenue development. So the group decides of focus on this strategic theme. Although the ideas generated during the blue sky session, there will generally be some type of common thread among them. There is still time at this point to be broad and to have discussion on differences, but the key here is to always come back to common ground and work toward unity.


  1. Align the Board

In this stage, the goal is to align the board around specific action items that stem from the “common thread” identified in the prior step. For example, if the common idea is non-dues revenue getting, this is the stage where you get buy-in around some important specifics: who, who, when, etc. Remember, though, that this is still a board meeting. Get a general plan but don’t get too far into details. Your staff or association management company can take it from there.


  1. The Negative Poll

To make sure everyone is on board, close things by taking a negative poll. Instead of asking, “Does everyone agree?”, ask “Is there anyone who can’t move forward with this decision?” This approach opens up the approach that perhaps everyone didn’t get everything they wanted, but that everyone got enough or agrees enough to take action and move forward. If there is someone who can’t move forward, revisit steps 3 and 4 to see if you can get their buy-in.


Give this structured approach a try and let us know how it works. If you still struggle, you may want to bring in a third-party facilitator to help with the process. The Markens Group works with boards regularly, so feel free to contact us.

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