Did you know you had one? Do you know what it is? Why is board culture a thing anyway? They just meet, talk and do some stuff, right?

The truth is – if you aren’t being intentional about it, your board may struggle.

I wonder how your board members would describe your board culture. Have you ever asked them to?

These committed volunteers are partners in achieving organizational success and according to Board Source, “Board culture has a significant influence on the way your board carries out its work and shapes your board’s performance.”

Culture refers to the way people work together, how they treat each other, what they expect from each other and culture typically reflects the values a group holds dear. It’s also part of your brand and influences how others view your leadership team.

It’s worth being intentional about it. If you aren’t, you risk many things such as camaraderie among volunteers, the sense of being included, as well as securing their full commitment.

When your board has a positive, strong culture, you can expect that:

  • Everyone is focused on the right things so the odds of making good decisions increases
  • They work together well and communicate effectively
  • They hold each other accountable and get more done
  • There’s a palpable energy about them and everyone is engaged
  • The CEO and board chair have a good relationship and work as partners
  • There is a strong sense of trust and ownership and members step up to lead

Does this sound like your board? If not, how do you get from here to there?

Here are 3 steps you can take to intentionally establish a healthy board culture:

1. Create a Board Culture Statement: Be sure to involve the entire board – this isn’t a function of a sub-group since it affects everyone.

Because culture is an extension of assumptions and values, facilitate a discussion or activity around what values the board wants to prioritize. Then you can have your best writer work with you on turning that into 1 or 2 sentences. Some of my clients have included phrases that emphasized teamwork, inclusion, joy, a bias toward results and respect.

This will likely be one of the most engaging activities you have with your board as you tap into their collective passion.

2. Create a Sense of Urgency: It’s not enough to do that exercise and then forget about it. Communicate about what culture-aligned behavior looks like when in action. How will you walk the talk?

For example, if inclusion is important to your board, how are you recruiting diverse perspectives? How are you soliciting divergent opinions at meetings – is it okay to challenge the status quo?

Print the board culture statement on your agendas, on all recruitment materials and on board member expectation documents. Say it loud and proud, and establish the tone you want.

3. Assess Your Success in Advancing the Culture You Chose: Measuring success is a vital step in changing culture. How will you know when you achieve it? How will you celebrate? How might you adjust if there’s a need for a course correction?

Determine who you want to keep an eye on progress. Is it the board chair and CEO? Or the Governance committee?

In addition to this group ensuring that behaviors are aligned with culture, lead a discussion at a board meeting, or a quick 2-question survey at the end of a meeting to get a sense for how others are feeling too.

At the end of the day, aligning your board around a culture that matters to them can have a tremendous influence over how they approach their volunteer work. It also helps you recruit the best people to your board because you can enroll those who match best with your defined culture..

It’s definitely worth being intentional about your board culture so you can enjoy a fully engaged leadership team.