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5 Simple Steps to Improve Your Board’s Decision Making

May 25, 2018

Association boards of directors face many tough decisions. After all, the direction of the organization rests in their hands. To make things more complicated, 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 boards need to act decisively, there is usually pressing problem. Perhaps the association is losing money or members. Yet when discussing problems, board members can easily place blame instead of focusing on actionable solutions.

Instead, frame that problem into a goal for the board to achieve. Not only does this approach minimize unproductive blame-placing, it also positions the conversation in terms of positive action.

Be as clear as possible when defining that goal. Much conflict stems from confusion and miscommunication around purpose. Get everyone on the same page!

2. Generate Possibilities: The Blue-Sky Technique

Now it’s time to brainstorm strategies and techniques for achieving the goal. To do this, try the blue-sky technique. The idea is simple. Board members simply state their ideas. All of them, big and small. The sky is the limit.

There shouldn’t be discussion or critique during this phase. Blue sky is all about generating ideas as quickly as possible and making sure everyone’s voice is heard. Despite the high stakes of decision-making, many boards enjoy the freedom of this process.

3. Find Focus: The Common Thread

With everyone’s ideas are on the table, it’s time to narrow down the possibilities. Do this by identifying commonalities. If the association’s goal is to increase revenue, perhaps many of the ideas focus on non-dues revenue development rather than member recruitment. Find these common threads and see where you can start to build consensus. This is the time for discussion and debate, but always try to return to common ground.

4. Align the Board

In this stage, align the board around a specific course of action. For example, if the common thread from the previous step is non-dues revenue generation, now is the time to get buy-in around the important specifics to generate that revenue: what, who, when, etc. Remember, though, that this is still a high-level board meeting. Hammer out a general plan and allow your staff or association management company to take it from there.

5. The Negative Poll

To make sure everyone is in agreement, close the discussion by taking a negative poll. Ask, “Is there anyone who can’t move forward with this decision?” This approach helps board members to see that even if they didn’t get everything they wanted, they got enough to move forward. It also helps to immediately identify dissent that might otherwise go unspoken. If someone can’t move forward, revisit steps three and four to make adjustments.

Give this five-step approach a try and see how it works. If the board still struggles, you may want to bring in a third-party facilitator to help. The Markens Group works with boards regularly, so feel free to reach out!

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