All the traditional wisdom about teams is that they require four things:
- a goal worthy of striving for and which requires a team to accomplish it.
- good team processes of communication, decision-making, meeting management, data handling, and conflict resolution.
- commitment to the success of the team and the success of the individual teammates.
- a culture of accountability.
Non-profit boards that function well as a team or even as a set of interlocking teams (e.g. board committees) seem to enjoy the four requirements above.
Item number 4 is especially important.
A former client organization has two staff members who are retired military—US Army Rangers. One of the former Rangers expressed the opinion that civilians don’t understand accountability. So I asked him, “How do you describe accountability?”
It turns out that the answer is unsurprising.
First, you do what you say you will do, when you promised it, and to the best of your ability.
Second, you would never, ever, ever, let another teammate down.
Hmmm. Sounds simple, true?
So, what would be some observable behaviors that a board with a culture of accountability would display?
Let’s start with basics.
Board members would return each others’ voice and email messages. That seems like common courtesy, right? When a fellow board member leaves you a message on your phone, you return her call. When a fellow board member emails with a request, you return the message. When you don’t, not much good comes later.
Next, when a board member is following up with you on a promise, you tell them what you did about it, or at least that you didn’t do what you said you would. And if not, skip the excuses. Nobody cares why you didn’t do it (everybody is busy so don’t even try that one). Just explain whether or not you still agree to do the task, and by when if you can still commit to it. Things can change, and you might not be able to follow through. If that’s what happened, say so.
Finally, commit to what you can accomplish. Say no if you can’t or won’t do what your fellow board member asks.
There’s the old joke about the difference between a pig and a chicken in a bacon and egg breakfast. The chicken is involved, but the pig is committed.
Commit to what you can.
Say no to what you cannot or will not.
Be courteous and return messages.
That way you will never, ever, ever have to let a