After a long hiatus, we’re back! Our guest this week was Marion Thomson Howell, President of Shaugnessy Howell and Executive-in-residence at Capacity Canada. With extensive experience serving on a variety of boards, Marion shared her expertise on different board models.

Personally, this was one of my favourite episodes. Marion clearly explains each model and the benefits and risks of each. We hope this episode will prompt anyone serving on a board to think about which model currently fits their board and which board model would best serve their organization.

Marion outlines four models of boards:

Working boards are volunteer-driven community organizations with no staff.

Traditional boards have staff but there is limited role clarity around the separate roles of the board and staff.

Policy boards clearly define the role of the board and CEO as well as expectations and key processes through policy. Policies are monitored to ensure compliance with expectations.

Results-based boards are more outcomes-focused. These boards receive regular reports on progress towards board defined goals and may be less prescriptive in defining processes that must be followed to accomplish the goals.

These models make it easy for us to compare different types of boards and to make some generalizations, but it is important to remember boards may combine some characteristics of different models and that boards are constantly changing.  

Further, a board may evolve between models. For example, a working board may become a more traditional board once it develops the resources to hire staff. Factors such as board composition and environmental pressures may prompt these changes.

Boards are not always consistent. One challenge may prompt a board to take a more results-based approach, but another might prompt a board to temporarily shift to a traditional model. Different projects may require different tools.

These models can also be aspirational. A traditional board may want to improve their risk management so will work towards the policy model. I tend to see these models as a progression, with a hybrid of the policy and results-based board as the ideal.

These certainly are not the only theories of governance or board models. There are different ways to explain and predict board behaviour, but Marion has provided us with a clear foundation for board members to understand their board’s work.

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