Chris McEntee, CEO of the American Geophysical Union, has done a lot of work around transformational leadership. In particular, she reshaped AGU’s board of directors, taking particular care, as you’ll see below, to honing and defining culture at the board level.
What kind of board culture have you created there?
Collaborative, respectful, strategic, inquisitive, deliberative, constructive dialogue, consensus.
What do you do to shape it? What does your orientation look like?
We build board development/education into every meeting – for example, in meeting board development sessions have ranged from sharing results of Strength Finder for individual board members, to being educated by an outside expert on science funding challenges, to discussing articles on risk.
We begin orientation with providing information about the culture and role/responsibilities to potential candidates for board positions. Once elected, we hold webinars prior to term on basics such as agenda materials, reimbursement, etc; and then we have incoming board members attend a meeting prior to beginning of their term where we also have outgoing board members participate in a transition event where they speak about their experience, the board culture and provide insight to the new and returning board members. We also hold a separate orientation meeting every two years for incoming board members where we review the strategic priorities, the financials, and also engage in a session we call * Happens where we present case studies and ask for groups to share how they would respond – then the elected president, president-elect and myself judge the response and provide feedback and coaching if needed.
How does the path people take to get on the board impact the board culture?
We have honed our governance committee processes over the past 5 years; we are now spending more time up front identifying potential board leaders and then providing other experiences where we can observe them working within AGU; we have started interviewing officer and board candidates before the governance committee prepares the final slate for election.
How does your board culture address the issue of conflict?
We create an atmosphere where all board members can speak and be heard; we allow all viewpoints to be heard and discussed and the board chair encourages hearing from all and calling on those who may not have spoken; for an agenda item in which we can anticipate we will have a variety of different viewpoints, we schedule time for the discussion over two days so that board members can talk about the item and various issues overnight before making a decision the next day. We don’t take a vote until everyone is satisfied that enough time has been allowed for full and robust discussion and debate.
How are YOU thinking about board culture and building processes to define that culture proactively?