Mastermind Hot Seat: What Do I Do To Improve My Board


I’ve loved getting questions from folks. It’s honestly one of my favorite things 🙂

This month’s is from Alison in Iowa, and it’s a great one: 

My board has identified a goal for itself wanting to be better as a board. My board members are open to training but we don’t know what to focus on. Honestly, it’s a little overwhelming. What would you recommend we focus on first if we want to level up our work as a board? 

So first, kudos. I love that your board has been explicit about focusing on itself,  and investing in building its own strength and capacity.

So here’s how I would think about approaching this work with your board so that it’s not overwhelming. 

Ok – I’d organize your thinking into 3 core areas of focus. I’ll lay them out, then briefly break down questions you can ask inside each bucket to create an approach to change: 

  1. How You Work Together – this is about meetings, culture, and the commitment to, and integration of equity and inclusion into your work together. 
  2. Second, board engagement and ambassadorship – this is about how available and connected board members are to the org between meetings, as well as about the extent to which they actually help connect the org to new people and new resources
  3. Third, Board Structure and Systems (calendar, policies, structures)

So let me break down what you can actually do inside each bucket. Start by making time for a discussion with your board members in which you identify clear goals within each bucket. 

How you work together

  • Think about how you spend your meetings – are they full of updates or used for generative and strategic discussions that move the work of the org forward? Make sure that the majority of your time together is spent with the board in an advisory capacity – generative and strategic. I give this challenge to the EDs I work with — try drafting an agenda for a meeting with no updates. What would that look like – where would the updates go – be creative. What would you want to talk to your board members about?  
  • Create a shared definition and understanding of the culture you want to have on the board. How do you want to be at meetings? Between meetings? How do you make space for differences in perspective? disagreement> messy conversations? 
  • How are you operationalizing equity and inclusion on your board, and not just giving lip service? What are clear indicators of each? How are you holding yourselves accountable? 

Board Engagement and Ambassadorship 

  • As a group, determine guidelines for engagement between meetings. 
  • There are 4 types — meetings, 1:1 connections, points of inspiration, and updates. 
  • What do board members want to be updated about? What types of information and engagement will be inspirational – what is their responsibility to access those things? When will 1:1 happen? 
  • Also get super clear – as a board – about what ambassadorship means on the board. What are the expectations and what do board members need in order to meet those expectations? 

 Board Structure and Systems (calendar, policies, structures)

  • Make sure you have a set calendar
  • A governance manual that clarifies roles and responsibilities 
  • Do you have the right committees? Too many? Do you need them at all? 
  • Create a board prospectus, and a clear and codified process for recruiting and onboarding new members. 

The key here is setting aside dedicated time to define these things, set agreed upon goals within each area, and then reverse engineer what the board will do and what it needs (training, info, etc.) to get to those goals. 

I have a new quiz that diagnoses your board’s current strength and provides the exact steps, in each of these buckets, to shore up your board where necessary.

You can get the quiz at

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