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Does your board play tug-of-war? (OR Bullying Board Members)

Baloo has been one of AVB Consulting’s top associates for the past six years. Recently, however, his nephew Royce, a one-year-old German Shepherd, joined our team.

Consequently, there has been a lot more tug-of-war, some frantic and loud barking, and even a bit of biting around the offices when we should be getting things done.

I hope this doesn’t sound like your board meetings…but that behavior in people is all too common.

While all boards are different, sometimes someone new joins the team and their approach or personality can lead to a lot more tug-of-war than usual.

Now, a good game of tug-of-war isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, high-performing boards with a great deal of diversity often have rich, passionate and uncomfortable discussions that can feel like tug-of-war. The question is: Are your discussions allowing everyone to be heard and leading to actions about which the whole board feels good OR are meetings running long and going nowhere fast?

Royce is younger than Baloo, he doesn’t have as much experience as me or Baloo and he is definitely insecure. Just like people—and board members—this can lead to some bully-like behavior. Bullies are the people who dominate a meeting. They will push, and push HARD, for their particular agenda regardless of what other board members think or say. They are unable to listen or come to consensus. These bullies are the people that boards and executive directors dread.

There are two solutions to this problem: 1) Robert’s Rules of Order and 2) Prevention. (Bonus advice: Even though you may be tempted, it is not acceptable to crate board members when they get too rambunctious like I do with young Royce.)

While it is not easy to manage or remove a bullying board member, it is critical that the board as a whole regain control and then ensure strict, by-the-book conduct at all meetings. There is a reason Robert’s Rules of Order exist. The order of your meetings is spelled out in your bylaws and in the absence of that, the default is Robert’s Rules, which is all about maximizing the effectiveness of your meeting while also ensuring fairness to everyone.

It is the absence of structure that Robert’s Rules of Order impart that allows bullying voices (or barks) to fill the void. So, start taking back control, run a tight, structured meeting and the board chair or another board member should have a private one-on-one conversation with the bullying board member. This is not the job for the staff, including the CEO or executive director. Boards need to be responsible for managing themselves.

The second key to avoiding/resolving this situation is preventing it in the first place. With a strong governance or nominations committee, your organization will have a process for finding and interviewing potential candidates to evaluate their experience, skill set and all other factors to help ensure that you are not bringing on a bullying board member. This committee can also make certain that there are policies that prevent stagnation such as term limits and staggered terms.

Royce doesn’t seem to understand what I mean when I mention term limits for associates here in the office, so I have gone with Solution #1, regaining control and order just like you need to do in your board meetings. I’m also not afraid to ask for experienced help, so Gary the dog trainer just spent two hours with all of us this past week. So far, following Gary’s Rules of Order seeming to be helping immensely and we are all getting a lot more productive work done. I wish the same to you!

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