A chamber’s chief executive interacts regularly with the chamber board and builds a partnership relationship with board members. The board and the executive usually understand their roles and manage the chamber’s leadership process fairly well.
But what about the other staff people? Can the same partnership relationships exist? How can we create these healthy partnership relationships? What are the pitfalls of these relationships?
The board has the legal authority and responsibility to direct and oversee the operations of the chamber. But board members can’t do that in a vacuum – they need information about trends, finances, membership needs, governance basics to get their job done. They rely on the expertise and knowledge of staff members to get the required information upon which to base sound, strategic decisions.
It’s a partnership…the staff provides information and the board acts on it.
Should key administrative staff attend board meetings to present this important information? Certainly – at least for the reporting phase of the board meeting. This strengthens the partnership relationship, builds trust, removes barriers, opens doors. There could be pitfalls created as a result – more on that topic to follow.
Should key staff and board members interact outside the board room? With a careful eye on the pitfalls to be avoided, certainly they should. Social events allow staff and board to interact informally. Key staff should be included in the annual strategic planning process to help the board understand the impact of its decisions on the chamber’s operations.
Pitfalls to be Avoided
Unfortunately, when we open the door of board/staff partnership relationships, a common pitfall can occur. If board and staff become comfortable with their relationships, it often leads to either partner going directly to the other…avoiding the chain of command.
Board members who give direction to staff without going through the chamber executive can open themselves to lawsuits and “insider” issues and cripple the chief executive’s ability to supervise and manage the chamber staff. If a staff person becomes too comfortable with their board liaison, they could inadvertently betray the grievance policy or whistle blower policy.
It is critically important to clarify roles and responsibilities in the successful partnership relationship. Talk about the pitfalls to be avoided. The chamber executive and board chair should meet before the chair takes office to discuss “How can I help you be successful? How will we communicate? How will we define each other’s role more clearly?” Key staff and their board committee liaison should do the same every year. Talking about roles and responsibilities up front can alleviate problems down the road and lead to a satisfying and productive partnership relationship.
The rewards of a sound partnership relationship between board and staff will result in a well-managed chamber, with a board that has the information it needs to govern strategically and a staff that values its contribution to the chamber as a whole.