Communicating with the Board: 5 Take-Aways from REAL Session 3

by Lisa Mackay

Terry Rock of Platform Calgary lead a session on Board Management and Strategic Planning

The third session of the 2020 REAL (Rozsa Executive Arts Leadership) program was held at the National Music Centre. Led by Terry Rock, President and CEO of Platform Calgary, the team dug into the role of the board of governors and the process of strategic planning with board and staff. Both are enormous topics that could easily be a six-week course in and of themselves, but Terry expertly navigated everyone through the subjects with enough depth to develop an understanding of the fundamental issues involved.


A dominant concept throughout the session was the need for effective communication. The way we communicate, the regularity with which we provide information, and the information we provide all determine the success of the board, staff, strategic plan, and ultimately, the organization.


Among a ton of other useful information, Terry outlined several factors that can exacerbate dysfunctional communication and prevent board effectiveness that can easily be overlooked. Here are five key areas to examine in your own board communications:


1) EXPECTATIONS It was immediately apparent as participants shared their own experiences from both sides of the boardroom table, that clear expectations for the board are often overlooked or poorly communicated. This frequently leads to a misalignment between board and executive, who can end up working at cross purposes - obviously not an ideal scenario, especially when it comes to strategic planning. Clearly articulating board expectations and ensuring every member understands them completely can take time, but will make the road ahead so much smoother.


2) TECHNOLOGY The technology used to keep board and staff informed needs to be readily accessible and easily understood and used by all. If there are gaps in technical know-how or systems capacity, they can thwart even the clearest material from being received, and need to be addressed.


3) TIME The amount of time required of board members can also be a challenge to communicating well and relates back to expectations. If, in additional board and committee meetings, information is consistently lengthy and complex or relentlessly delivered, it can be challenging for board members to find the time to get through it all. Being mindful of this and synthesizing communications to the most salient points, for example a “Five Things You Need to Know This Month” document, goes a long way in keeping board members updated and on the same page.


4) BOARD SIZE Sometimes the size of a board can be an impediment to moving the organization forward efficiently. Not all members will feel inspired by the same projects, be able to attend the same informational meetings, or even have the same level of experience or exposure to the art form. Identifying some key members and communicating with them regularly one-on-one outside of scheduled board meetings, for example at a weekly coffee meeting or a monthly lunch date, will help move the larger meetings along and create champions for projects or strategies that will benefit the organization.


5) LANGUAGE Finally, being aware of the language used in communications can help alleviate the challenge of different backgrounds and levels of experience. Acronyms abound in almost any industry, and whether you are discussing balance sheets or potential project partners, and many people, board and staff alike, are uncomfortable asking that clarifying question. As a result, they manage with only a partial understanding of the issues at hand. Using full terms is a small but powerful way to achieve a more complete understanding around the board table.


Communication is a linchpin in so many aspects of business and life and has a myriad of components that can go awry. Identifying the challenges and finding ways to address or remove them is essential to building a healthy board-management relationship, which in turn is vital to the continued success of an organization.

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