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Top Board (and Organizational) Disorders

In my work with nonprofit boards I have seen several disorders which I would like to point out to you in the hope of someday finding a cure.

Committee-itis—this manifests itself when a board has WAY too many committees. So many committees in fact, it may not remember what the committees were formed for in the first place. Another form of committee-itis is not making any decisions or taking any action, but instead sending things to a mysterious committee where they will never be heard of again.

Bobble Headedness—an ugly disease that spreads like wildfire. Someone makes a suggestion—perhaps that yet another initiative be sent off to a committee– and one or two key board members nod in agreement (even though they know that particular committee hasn’t met since the late 1970s). Soon all board members are nodding and before anyone knows what happened, the motion passes. Could also be thought of as Lemming Disease for following the crowd even when you have no idea where it’s going. Also manifests itself as Shaken Head Syndrome when the same thing happens except it’s a negative rather than affirmative vote. Heads are moving, but nobody’s home.

Small Timers Syndrome (also know as OED—Obsessive Events Disorder) – the board has lost all sight of the big picture but hangs onto events as a show of activity. Also known as the fatal DBBS (Death by Bake Sale). Can occur when the patient is having a heart attack (maybe membership is plummeting) and the board worries about an ingrown toenail (vendors at this year’s street fair). Small Timers Syndrome often features bouts of micromanagement where board members forget their role is to look at the big picture, not worry about the color of the new brochure.

And finally, the dreaded Mission Creep—the organizational mission is so broad and so vague it might mean almost anything. An example might be the mission to “improve life in our community.” Is there anything that might NOT include? Results in blindness and a lack of clarity, and if left untreated can result in the death of excellence.

Suggested treatment options include:

Appoint a strong board chair who can really run meetings. Of course, this treatment involves FINDING a strong board chair – something that is currently not covered in many nonprofit health plans. In fact, coverage is so bad that finding a living, breathing human who will serve as board chair can be a challenge.

Take two doses of the KISS Principle and call me in the morning. Keep It Simple, Sweetheart – keep your committee structure lean and mean. Review it regularly. Is it working?

Train board members so they know what their role really is. Many people really want to do a good job, they just don’t know what’s expected and they don’t want to appear stupid by asking. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Have an outside facilitator review your mission statement with your board or help with strategic planning. This person can ask the hard questions – such as “Exactly what does that mean to you?” “How do you measure that?” etc. Sometimes if the patient is in really bad shape, you need to bring in an expert. Better a doctor than a mortician!

If you or any of your board members are experiencing any of these symptoms, please stop your current activities and call FireStar immediately. The life you save could be your own.

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