Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Governance: A Source of Energy--or Dead Weight?

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

Does your volunteer leadership see its duty primarily to represent the interests of groups within your membership? Or does a significant portion of your leadership see their responsibility as ensuring the organization does not stray from its historic roots? I have been part of organizations where one or both have applied--perhaps you have too? When such tendencies dominate, it can be an energy-draining experience…..

This is not to say that governance bodies should not be representative—they should. Nor is it to say organizations should not be mindful of their origins and founding philosophies—this indeed can be a source of strength. But I have observed that organizations that are not called to achieve something that is greater than the sum of their parts can find themselves bogged down in numbing meetings rehashing and replaying roles from the past.

“Form follows function” of course; restructuring your governance apparatus (including sometimes sacrosanct committee structures) does not make sense unless you have a consensus on what your organization is all about and that this purpose is worthy of the time and energy and resources that are going into it. It is only when you have found or re-found this energizing purpose that you should ask if you have the proper structures for achieving it; and if you find they are no longer suitable, you should be merciless in changing them!

Too often organizations die of wounds inflicted by their own structures and mind-sets that were suitable for another time and other circumstances perhaps but not so much for the present. Economist Joseph Alois Schumpeter won the Noble Prize for his theory of “creative destruction”—that organizations that are ill-suited to a changing environment are inevitably destroyed, to be replaced by ones that are better able to respond to these new challenges and opportunities. But it is generally sad to see things die—particularly when you are on the inside!

Like people, some organizations are prematurely old while other organizations that may be a hundred years old or more are as vigorous and fresh as if they were created yesterday. In which category does your organization fall?

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