Difficult Board and ED Relationships…

Nearly every ED has had at least one “difficult” board and by contrast nearly every board has had times when they have difficulties with an ED.What happens when a relationship like this goes sour? Before you are ready to throw in the towel, it helps to take a step back and reassess. In the heat of the moment, it can be the hardest thing to do.

TL:DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read)

In such cases it helps to get outside help–like an impartial board member, external stakeholder or even a professional mediator.

Here are my five recommendations for dealing with difficult board and ED relationships:

Souring Board and ED Relationships

Dealing with difficult relationships between a board of directors and an Executive Director (ED) can be one of the most challenging aspects of nonprofit management. These relationships are crucial for the success and sustainability of the organization. When conflicts arise, they can impede the organization’s progress and affect its ability to fulfill its mission. The key to managing these relationships lies in understanding the root causes of conflicts, establishing clear communication channels, fostering mutual respect, and implementing strategic conflict resolution practices.

First and foremost, identifying the root causes of tension is essential. Conflicts between the board and the ED often stem from a lack of clarity regarding roles and responsibilities. The board’s role is to provide strategic direction and oversight, while the ED is responsible for the day-to-day management of the organization. Misunderstandings or overstepping of these roles can lead to friction. Thus, clear documentation and regular reinforcement of these roles are vital. Organizations can benefit from conducting joint training sessions and retreats where roles and expectations are clarified and revisited.

Clear Communication

Clear, open, and regular communication is another cornerstone of a healthy board-ED relationship. Establishing regular communication channels such as monthly meetings, updates, and reports can help keep both parties informed and aligned. These communication practices should not only focus on sharing successes but also on discussing challenges openly. Creating a culture where constructive feedback is welcomed and valued can help prevent misunderstandings and foster a collaborative environment.

Mutual respect is fundamental to any successful relationship, including that between the board and the ED. This respect is cultivated by acknowledging the expertise and contributions that each party brings to the table. The board should respect the ED’s knowledge of the day-to-day operations and the challenges faced by staff, while the ED should value the board’s strategic insights and oversight. Celebrating achievements and acknowledging hard work can help build a positive atmosphere that nurtures respect.

Develop the Conflict Resolution Process

Conflict resolution strategies are also essential tools for managing difficult relationships. When conflicts arise, having a predefined process for resolution can be invaluable. This process might include mediation or facilitation by a third party, which can help maintain objectivity and fairness. It’s important for both the board and the ED to commit to resolving conflicts in the best interest of the organization, putting personal egos aside.

Another strategy is to foster a shared vision and alignment on the organization’s mission. When both the board and the ED are deeply committed to the organization’s goals, it becomes easier to navigate conflicts. Regular strategy sessions where both parties can align on long-term goals and discuss how to achieve them can reinforce this shared commitment.

Performance evaluations are another critical aspect of managing board-ED relationships. These evaluations should be conducted regularly and involve clear, measurable objectives for the ED. Similarly, the board should also solicit feedback from the ED on its performance. This reciprocal evaluation process can highlight areas of improvement and celebrate successes, thereby strengthening the relationship.

Get Outside Mediation

In some cases, external consultants or advisors can provide valuable support in managing board-ED relationships. These professionals can offer an unbiased perspective on the dynamics between the board and the ED, helping to identify issues that may not be apparent from the inside. They can also facilitate discussions, help set up governance structures, and provide training on best practices in nonprofit management.

Develop a process that will allow you to document and navigate the relationship. The easy way to think about it is to do what you say you are going to do. While this may seem simple, oftentimes just sticking to your process and demonstrating that you can not deviate, will eliminate much of the surface tension.

Finally, it is crucial to recognize that building and maintaining a healthy relationship between the board and the ED takes time and effort from both sides. Patience, a willingness to listen, and a commitment to the organization’s success are key. It’s important to celebrate small victories along the way and recognize the progress made in strengthening the relationship.

In conclusion, managing difficult relationships between a board of directors and an Executive Director requires a multifaceted approach. By addressing the root causes of conflicts, fostering open communication, respecting each other’s roles, implementing conflict resolution strategies, aligning on the organization’s mission, conducting regular performance evaluations, and possibly engaging external support, organizations can overcome these challenges. The goal should always be to create a collaborative environment where both the board and the ED can work together effectively for the advancement of the organization’s mission. This not only benefits the organization internally but also enhances its ability to make a positive impact on the communities it serves.