Framing the Question for the Board

One of the key roles for the person planning the board agenda is to form (or “frame”) the question. I was reminded about this recently in speaking to a new Executive Director about a big, urgent issue that had come up. They were unable to get a quorum and wondered about voting by email (a subject for another day!).  As a new ED working with a board for the first time, the idea of a motion was new, and the path to action was not clear…so I got to the bottom line by asking, “What question are you trying to get the board to answer? Is there some authority or resources you don’t have now, that you would need in order to move forward with this issue?”

If a direction on an issue is not clear, where a simple yes/no is not evident yet, It may be helpful for the Executive and Chair/President to think about the options for that issue, and perhaps have some possible motions in mind.

Sometimes the board needs to green light moving forward through “approval in concept” before a group could even come to a clear yes/no question (for example, exploring a new partnership with another organization, or looking into a potential earned revenue opportunity).  In this case the Executive or delegated board member needs a nod from the board to continue a conversation or develop an idea before a commitment is made. This helps avoid surprises in the board room when that same issue comes back with a clear yes/no choice.

Other times, the board needs to wade into a discussion before the options crystallize into view. When multiple options are available, list each option on a separate flip chart, identify pros and cons of each option, and the possible feelings or reactions key stakeholders might have.

What challenges and tools have you found in forming the question for the board you serve? I would love to hear from you!