The Board vs. Staff Game Replacing Divide and Conquer with Let’s Make Millions Together

Karen Eber Davis
It started with a threat, from a board member in the midst of a board meeting.
“If she doesn’t produce in a year, she’s out of here.”
Thirty seconds. Sixty seconds.
Silence hung in the room like fog at dawn.
I was beginning my third job with a nonprofit. The first two positions were highly-sought-after spots with low-pay and high-perks. 
This job was different.
This nonprofit hired me after a near-unanimous vote, which the executive director explained, “was pretty unusual for us.” I was too naïve to hear the conflict woven into his words. 
When Your Board Plays The Board vs. Staff Game
If you’ve been in the nonprofit world for long, you’ve heard this or a similar exchange.
The discussion above reflects a host of challenges. In my case, the board was not dealing with a bully in their midst (thus the silence.) They were dallying in the details. (Read Establish Board Boundaries for more on this dilemma.) They were engaged in a destructive game I call, The Board vs. Staff
This damaging game involves the board’s setting strategy with an assumption of infallibility. Since the board’s right, if solutions fail, it’s the staff fault. Case closed. Off with their heads.
What’s wrong with playing The Board vs. Staff? Instead of fulfilling the mission by working together externally to make millions, the focus shifts to internals. These include quotas, fear of failure, and dodging the blame. The staff and board don’t see themselves as partners in success. That is, the game destroys the team working together to create breakthrough leadership using superlative thinking.
The “We’re in This Together” Approach
Boards set strategies. Staffs execute strategies. However, despite conventional thinking, strategies are not one-and-done. They need refinement underway since you learn in real time what works and what’s not up to snuff. 
When strategies “don’t produce,” lots of possibilities exist about why. The staff may lack skills. The board might have set a weak strategy. More likely, say in 90 percent of the cases, the strategy is on target and staff’s progressing. Yet, kinks exist that need to be jiggled out. You do this with joint expert, board, and staff thinking. 
How I Used the “We’re in This Together Approach 
In my new job, I found partners, not board members, to help. They helped me to exceed the board’s expectations. I stayed for three years and left with a lifetime commitment to help blow up mission blocks, such as The Board vs. Staff Game, so that nonprofits striving towards their visions thrive. That’s how my business started.
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