A Board’s role does not change in a crisis. The dual role of the Board to protect and direct (as Jim Brown writes in The Imperfect Board Member), remains in place whether your Board is on a summer break when times are great or when you are wrestling with the chaos of a global pandemic.
That being said, the intensity of the level of change in the external environment will require a Board to increase the level of attention they are paying to how the organization is faring. Plans for reopening for the year ahead not only need some consideration from the Board but those plans will benefit from the scrutiny of the people around the table. When businesses, schools, and offices were closed back in the spring, the next step was not to simply pop open the binder marked “What to do in a global pandemic when everyone is required to stay at home for several months and no one knows what is going to happen from day to day.” There is no step by step playbook that is guiding our organizations. There is, however, the Board and a dedicated staff who will put the best interests of the organization at the forefront of their decisions and who are armed with their set of questions to keep everything on track. Board members need to be mindful that their CEO will be likely dealing with frequent stressful situations while s/he is trying to make decisions “in the weeds”. As a result of the demand for the CEO to be looking inward right now, there is a heightened need for the Board to stay focused outward , with the mission and purpose of the whole organization as the primary lens.
In 2019, the Florida State University football team stopped using a conventional playbook for their season. Typically a team will have a thick binder of plays from which they will draw during a game so getting rid of a playbook was pretty radical. Here’s what one of the players said about the strategy:
Not having a playbook means that the players have to know exactly what they’re supposed to be doing at all times.
That means a lot of repetition. It also means a lot of time in the film room.
“We have to watch so much film and you have to stay around your coaches in learning so much because we don’t have a playbook,” Terry said.
“You have to be around and we have to stay focused and embodying and what you have going on because with no playbook, I can’t say it’s harder but it’s so simple we have to just stay focused and buy in.” (https://www.tallahassee.com/story/sports/college/fsu/football/2019/07/19/florida-state-buying-kendal-briles-no-playbook-offense-willie-taggart-james-blackman/1728926001/)\
I think there are some lessons for Board members here. In this time of uncertainty and in the absence of a “playbook”, be clear about your role, spend extra time understanding the challenges facing the organization, be prepared to ask tough questions, be supportive of each other and your CEO, and stay focused on the horizon and the mission.