Reflections on Episode 6: Board work during a pandemic – what to do when there is no playbook

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.

Episode 6: Guidance for Boards during a global pandemic

After reviewing listener feedback and questions, it is clear that a common concern is on the minds of lots of Board members right now. How involved should a Board be in their organization during the unpredictability of a global pandemic? Paul and Andrew invite back governance consultant Fred Galloway to answer a listener question and dive a little deeper into this important topic.

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/the-governance-guys/id1506642067

Listen on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7aDea06cFGCXdQTiONHaTM

Listen on Google Play: https://www.google.com/podcasts?feed=aHR0cHM6Ly90aGVnb3Zlcm5hbmNlZ3V5cy5jb20vY2F0ZWdvcnkvZ292ZXJuYW5jZS9mZWVkLw%3D%3D

Episode 5: The Imperfect Board Member with Jim Brown

Jim Brown, author of The Imperfect Board Member sits down with Paul and Andrew to discuss why he thinks Boards are important, what Board members can do to step up their game, and how seven disciplines can move us towards governance excellence.
Jim’s book is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B008N9J50G/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1 , his podcast is called “OrgHealth” – https://www.orghealth.coach/podcast and you can check out his leadership and governance development company “Strive” by visiting: https://www.strive.com/

Episode 4: Role of the Individual Board Member

This episode gave us a chance to muse together about the importance of having a clear understanding of the role of the individual Board member. Here are some more thoughts we had “offline” that we wanted to share.

Let’s think of an organization as a ship.  A ship has a defined structure, a clear purpose (moving people/things from A to B), and a crew with a variety of roles and responsibilities. It has to use the external elements (ocean, weather) but also in some cases struggle against them to complete its mission. It’s easy to imagine the various crew members as staff members and the Captain and their team as the fearless leaders turning the ship and charting the course. Where, though, does the Board fit in?

In an organization, the Board is supposed to set direction and monitor progress. The Board should have a keen awareness of the external environment to measure how close the organization is to fulfilling its purpose and mission and to consider outside challenges and threats. The Board should be both a resource for the CEO and a team of critical questioners to constructively challenge decisions and keep things on track.

The individual Board member, therefore, finds themselves in an important position on our ship above. While the crew and Captain are undertaking their important tasks and maintaining the ship, the Board member keeps their eyes focused forward. Consider the sextant, an old tool used by sailors to locate the ship as they cut through the middle of the ocean. The sextant is effective because from your ship you could observe the location of the stars, sun, moon and then compare those to the horizon. As you carefully record your measurements, you can make sure you are still on track and ask for adjustments from the Captain accordingly.

Now consider what we said about the Board above. A Board member needs to contribute to setting direction, monitoring progress, and understanding the external environment and how it may impact the organization.  Each time you review a report, join a meeting, and reflect on your role as a Board member, consider yourself as the person on the ship using the sextant to look out ahead and monitor whether or not you are still headed to your destination and, ultimately, fulfilling your purpose.

sextant
Image credit: Bernie Bernard TDI-Brooks International, Inc.

(For more details on the sextant, check out: https://www.canadashistory.ca/explore/science-technology/navigator-s-sextant)