11 questions that You can use to gauge if a Board is fulfilling its two primary roles?

I heard a CEO griping about Boards recently. She said that the system is broken and that Boards of Directors should be done away with.

I am not sure I disagree 100% with her opinion that Boards are broken, but I completely disagree with the notion that they should be taken to the trash heap.

Until you start your own privately held company or foundation that does humanitarian work and fund it with your own money, you need to have a Board. Public companies and charitable organizations are fundamentally using other people’s money to do work and therefore require oversight.

And lets not forget one very important reason it is the law!

I recently attended a Corporate Directors Institute of Canada breakfast seminar where Board roles and responsibilities were discussed. The Panel consisted:

  • Marcel Coutu (Formerly Chairman of Syncrude Canada and President & CEO of Canadian Oil Sands Limited),
  • Tim Hearn (Formerly Chairman and President & CEO of Imperial Oil Limited), and
  • Brian MacNeill (Formerly Chairman of Petro-Canada and President & CEO of Enbridge Inc.)

While the conversation was focused on corporate boards the lessons shared by that august panel are instantly transferable to nonprofit boards. There was unanimity across the panel that the two main roles of any Board are to:


  • Provide robust stewardship over the achieving results based on the organization’s strategic objectives and priorities.


  • Support the CEO or ED to ensure that person is not overwhelmed by ‘events’ and that they can focus on the important and strategic work of the organization.


How can a Board member or ED/CEO gauge that a Board is fulfilling those two roles?


Try this simple exercise: Rank your Board experiences from 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest) for these 11 questions:


  1. I have a clear idea of my role on the Board: How I have impact: and, what is expected of my participation?




  1. I am satisfied with my personal performance as a Board member?




  1. I can clearly state what the most important achievement the Board had in the last year?




  1. The Board facilitates conversation and debate that moves the organization forward?




  1. The Board participates in ongoing and continuous improvement?




  1. I have a clear understanding of the oversight role of the Board in regards to the executive leadership of the ED or CEO?




  1. Most of the Board’s meeting time is spent on the organization’s mission, vision and achieving its strategic objectives?




  1. The Board has its own multi-year goals?




  1. The contribution of each member is evaluated annually?




  1. I comfortably understand 75% of the financial data I am presented?




  1. I review the material I am given in advance of a meeting?




Now What?


Well we can’t fix everything all at once. So follow these simple steps:


  1. Pick one or two areas where you think could you improve your assessment score by one point.
  2. Take a moment and write out a few ideas that you have on how to move the dial up one point
  3. Have a conversation with your Board Chair about your concerns and offer solutions.
  4. Work with your Board team to improve the experience for everyone
  5. And Finally, ensure there is a laser-like focus on the Board’s primary roles of stewardship of the organization’ mission & vision and the support of the organization’s executive


Do you still need help?


Consider your Board as you would another team within your organization: if things aren’t going well invest in their performance through professional development and team coaching.


Click here to ask for help


Following these links to read previous logs on Boards: