How many times have you heard, “we don’t need a board orientation; it is a waste of time,” as your organization prepares to welcome new board members? This type of thinking usually stems from the director who likes to exert control over the organization, and who easily dismisses any information that would threaten such control. Despite this common misconception by some leaders, board orientation remains one of the most fundamental keys to the success of your organization.

Welcoming new leadership can be both an exciting and challenging time for an organization. New board members expand an organization’s expertise and brings new enthusiasm to the passionate group of individuals working towards a common purpose, but effective leadership begins with training. Organizations that implement a board orientation program ensure a seamless transition of power and optimal conditioning of leadership. An effective board orientation program includes:

  • Transfer of Knowledge
  • Establish Focus
  • Understand roles and responsibilities
  • Align expectations
  • Build a Strategic Plan
  • Manage Risks

The long-term success of an organization is rooted in the transfer of knowledge from one governing board to the next. Many successful organizations retain past chairs as ex-officio members of the board to ensure the transfer of institutional knowledge and a seamless continuation of the organizations work.

However, this is no substitution for a successful transition plan where relevant information is provided to new members and necessary skills are developed. Whether your organization is welcoming an entirely new board or just a few new members, an effective board orientation will ensure the accurate transfer of knowledge to all members.

In addition to the transfer of knowledge, an effective orientation program aims to establish focus for new board members, which includes:

  • A thorough exploration of the organization’s vision and mission.
  • Review of the governing documents that outlines the means in which the board must operate.
  • Introduction to the budgets defining the organizations financial position.

Peak performance of each board member that advances the organization’s mission begins with the formal introduction to these foundational elements of good governance.

At the core of an effective board is their ability to operate as a team. Optimal teamwork is only achieved with a great understanding of roles and responsibilities of each board member, as well as any professional staff the organization may have.

In addition to providing clarification about how work is done and by whom, this step should define the relationship among board members and professional staff, while preventing confusion and any duplication of responsibilities. Additionally, it’s critical to align expectations to establish trust and respect with each member of the team. Aligning expectations promotes accountability while ensuring the board operates as one team, with one voice.

An effective board orientation will also spend a significant amount of time on the organization’s strategic plan, a multi-year strategy that provides stability with each succession of leaders. The strategic plan becomes a roadmap for how the organization will accomplish its mission and requires a thorough understanding in addition to how to manage risks the organization faces. Establishing protective measures and avoiding behaviors that put the organization’s assets and reputation at jeopardy require a deep awareness of the risk the organizations face and the responsibility the board holds to follow laws and policies.

These initial elements of board orientation work in tandem to provide a strong start to your board members’ experience in governance. For more on effective board orientations, check out the Board Orientation Workbook by Bob Harris, CAE, now available via this QR Code or link.