As a consultant, I’m not a big fan of executive committees. As a board chair, I appreciate how they can help the board and CEO. I try to be vigilant about our executive committee. Surprised to find this blog about rumors helpful (How rumors undermine staff trust—and 6 ways to quell them), I’ve recast the recommendations for nonprofit boards and CEOs.
- Document, distribute, and demystify. Avoid the “DK DK” dilemma of board members who don’t know what they don’t know. Document executive committee meetings and distribute the minutes to the full board. This helps shed light on what goes on at executive committee meetings.
- Examine underlying practices and procedures. Some executive committees operate as the last stop before the board. All reports and recommendations must first be approved by the executive committee. In practice, this converts the rest of the board into a rubber stamp. Avoid this. Other executive committees serve as the first stop for exploring issues with the CEO. These executive committees serve as a kitchen cabinet where the CEO can think out loud in the early stages of an idea. They share perspectives, ask questions, and suggest additional resources but do not make decisions. Try this instead.
- Provide access. All board members should have access to the same information. Not all reports distributed to the executive committee need to be distributed to the full board. But, if any board members ask for that information, they should be briefed on the issues and provided appropriate reports without hesitation.
- Ask, assess, and act differently. Executive committee members are often blind to the perceptions of other board members. Seek input from the rest of the board. At the end of a board meeting, have an AMA (ask me anything) discussion in executive session. For more anonymity, conduct a board self-assessment. A well-done online survey will surface any issues that may exist about communication between the board and executive committee. The key to success is not in the asking but in using the feedback to do things differently.
Being board chair hasn’t changed my concerns about executive committees, but it has made me more aware of the importance of good governance relations between and among the board and CEO. As I think about passing the baton to the next chair and executive committee, I plan to test these tips at my farewell meeting by asking the full board how well I lived up to my own recommendations.