When Board Committees Fail

Vol. 14 No. 7

trustees eletter vol14 no7 epicfail

Committees are the linchpins of an effective Board. When Board meetings are well-attended, purposeful, and gratifying, this foundation usually grows out of understanding and applying the principles of properly establishing committees. The key to success is identifying, recruiting, and managing strong leaders—a critical role shared by the Board President, the Committee on Trustees, and the School Head. Committees are only as strong as the people who lead them.

But what happens when committees fail? Often, even if a committee’s original charge for the year is comprised of feasible goals, it may get sidetracked and fail. Why? The fault is probably the committee Chair’s—and, in these cases, “fault” usually means less an outright dereliction than simply an instance of mediocre leadership.

Successful midyear intervention, by the Board President or the Committee on Trustees, may be required when a committee has problems. This may take the form of renewed training for the committee Chair, renewed orientation for the entire committee, or a complete redirection and new staffing of the committee. The latter may include appointing a co-Chair. However, to be successful, this appointment usually requires an endorsement from the original Chair.

There are instances in which the Board President takes over the problem committee and leads it to a successful and timely completion of its goals. Or the overall Board agenda is simply not met that year. For most Presidents in most years, the “worst solution” approach is better than the “no solution” approach.

But, take care! Often what is perceived as failure by a committee is actually a failure of the Board. Effective committee work can be torpedoed by a Board that listens to a committee’s proposal, and then proceeds to redo or alter that work. The committee members then become frustrated—as do other Trustees, who feel the committee did not do its work well enough.

As a strong Chair, you can reduce the likelihood of such unhappy results by following these guidelines for creating written and oral proposals.

  • Explain how your committee interpreted its original charge.
  • Describe the plan used to address the various items of the charge.
  • Mention the roles played by individual committee members and subcommittees.
  • Show the sequence of steps that led to a narrowing of focus and emerging conclusions. Note the degree of challenge involved by quoting the number of person-hours, communications, and meetings. Also detail the significant contacts made and the resources studied.
  • Show the major conclusions, listed in descending order of importance.
  • End with a draft resolution designed to focus the following Board discussion and vote.

When Board members receive little more than a one-page list of conclusions and a resolution, a sense of superficiality can result. The approach suggested here, orchestrated by the committee Chair, highlights the process, building a foundation for the findings that resulted.

Clearly, properly selecting committee Chairs is well worth the time and effort to foster strong leadership. That leadership forms the bedrock for the Board’s success and progress.

Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Trustees Vol. 14 No. 2 Remedies for a ‘Fractured’ Board
ISM Quick-Tip Podcasts: 5 Questions for Great Board Member Selection

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 39 No. 5 Board Committee Structure and Function
I&P Vol. 28 No. 9 Charging the Board Committees: A Recommended Format

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