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Trusteeing the Process

On Sunday I spent about 90 minutes at a retreat for the Board of Trustees of a local private school.  I served on this Board for the past three years, so I was already familiar with the personalities and issues the Board faces.  I brought my markers & flipcharts, and employed some IF facilitation techniques, with the understanding that time was tight, and we wouldn’t be able to have a full conversation.

After reading the school’s mission statement aloud, I asked them to identify possible roles the Board and Board members can play in support of that mission.  A few people looked at the bylaws and list of Board member duties, but for the most part, they were very willing to think broadly and conceptually about their roles.  I had to emphasize that my goal for them was not to revise the bylaws or anything, but have a conceptual discussion about what the Board can do.  One thing that helped was that I listened to their conversation just prior to my facilitation, and they were discussing whether Board members should conduct exit interviews with parents of children who no longer attend the school.  I was able to remind them of that conversation as a good example of their lack of clarity about their roles as Board members – the bylaws and list of duties aren’t sufficient to answer every question about what they should do.  So after listing some 30 potential roles, I asked them to try to categorize the 30 under broader headings, and they did so, while I color coded every one of the 30 potential roles.  Then I asked them to generate ideas about how to ensure that those roles are performed by the Board.  They only had time to come up with about 6 ideas, but what was interesting was that sometimes it looked as if one person’s idea contradicted another person’s idea.  This didn’t make them uncomfortable, but instead they did a pretty good job of looking at these as possible directions, and not as contradictory directions that are part of a final action plan.

So in the end, the facilitation was successful, but there is no final outcome.  They’ve asked me to return for an October meeting to facilitate again.  I can sense that some members of the group want the process to be done already, and others could continue this discussion ad infinitum.  So we’ll have to be realistic about everyone’s expectations.  I’m typing up a summary of the discussion today, which the Board Chair will share with all Trustees at their meeting this Monday.

So for those of you who are still following this post, here’s my observation about teaching using the IF process and how it differs from working with outside groups of adults:  The outside group of adults I worked with were easier to work with because they were (a) motivated for some personal reason to take part in the discussion (rather than just doing it to graduate or satisfy a requirement) and (b) mature, confident, focused and respectful in conversation.  I had a good group to work with, especially since they all feel strongly committed to the school.  Facilitating my students has been more of a challenge, especially because their commitment to the process is so tied up in their expectations about grades and traditional ways in which they’re evaluated in a classroom.  My next post will be more classroom-focused.

Michael Gettings