Board Effectiveness With “Yes and” Circles
ELEVATING BOARD EFFECTIVENESS
Your board can be bogged down easily in details about day-to-day transactions and tactics. You know your board needs to address larger and more long-term strategies to achieve the strategic plan.
What if a simple 15-minute conversation could shift the rest of your board meeting?
Schedule time at every meeting to have the important strategic conversations or they may never happen. Getting everyone up from the boardroom table raises the energy in the meeting and allows groups to move further through topics that have held them up in the past. This is easily done using a “Yes and” Circle.
HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU NEED?
Once board members have been through the Board Effectiveness Training and have practiced the “Yes and” Circle, you can expect the following 4 easy challenges:
- 5 minutes to generate 20 or more ideas
- 7 minutes to identify 3-5 choices
- 9 minutes or less to choose
- 12 minutes to collaborate on an effective action plan
SHOULD WE DO THEM ALL IN ONE BOARD MEETING?
You can perform each step all in one board meeting. Most effective committees often do. We encourage boards to extend the steps across several meetings when making a large strategic choice or changing direction. Start with idea generation in one meeting. Allow the time between meetings to let those ideas percolate and for board members to get feedback from members and staff. For important strategic initiatives, take each step forward at separate meetings to allow time to reflect and meditate on the conversation.
HOW WILL THE “YES AND” CIRCLE EFFECT THE REST OF OUR BOARD MEETING?
The “Yes and” Circle makes the rest of the board meeting more effective and more strategic. Layering upon other people’s ideas builds alignment between the members and creates a positive atmosphere, making forward progress possible.
Choose the timing of your “Yes and” circle strategically. Pick a point in the meeting where the mundane, detailed work is finished. This gives an opportunity for the “Yes and” circle to raise the perspective up to what is important. Future topics will be more productive afterwards.
HOW DO I CHOOSE THE RIGHT TOPIC?
If you have been through the Board Effectiveness Training then you know the WXYZ methodology. Use the WXYZ to inform your “Yes and” circle. Ideally, you have your topic identified in advance using an effective WXYZ. A short conversation between the board chair and CEO or executive allows for intentional direction within the board meeting. Some board chairs find that allowing the board members to recommend or identify topics relevant to the strategic plan encourages more connections to the strategic plan. Be careful about just asking for a topic as many of these suggestions are quite tactical.
WHAT DO I HAVE TO WATCH FOR?
1. Make sure you redirect any negative behavior where someone is killing off an idea and not layering on top of an idea.
2. Make sure you have a timekeeper and stick to the time allotted. If you allow the “Yes and” Circle to go longer – know that future “Yes and” Circle circles will begin to get longer and longer with every meeting. Force the board’s effectiveness by achieving the results in the time allotted. Of course, an extra minute or two to finalize is fine, but be careful about running overtime.
3. Make sure there is someone keeping track of the conversation and the actions. We always recommend using a flip chart so everyone can see the note taking as this avoids debate later.
4. Make sure there is one important topic for the “Yes and” Circle. If you have more than one topic, split them up. If you have two connected topics, have a wide-plus circle on each one, and a third “Yes and” Circle on the hybrid.
5. Make sure everyone contributes even if it is not his or her area of expertise. Throw the “Yes and” ball to board members who are not participating.
ANY ADVICE FOR MY FIRST TIME?
Board EffectivenessThe first time you use the “Yes and” Circle you may find that the conversation wanders quite a bit. Your board will be less accustomed to focusing on the strategic imperatives. As you engage the board consistently in the “Yes and” Circles, the board becomes more effective in talking about the strategy and translating the strategy into action. Avoid expecting too much from them the first time. Stick with it – it will prove to be worth it.
HOW DO I STRUCTURE THE CONVERSATION ACROSS SEVERAL BOARD MEETINGS?
Exploring the conversation – Remember that using “Yes and” Circle to brainstorm ideas may only take 5-7 minutes to generate 20 or more ideas. Start there and ask a lot of questions that are open ended and explore previously unconsidered territory. Focus on generating as many insights and ideas.
Combine ideas into choices. Translate insights and ideas into strategic choices. The result is to identify the 3-5 strategic choices that align with the strategic plan, and reinforce the desired culture.
Select the best strategic choice. Often this means combining several strategic choices and exploring how they would be implemented and their effect on the membership and staff.
Provide clear direction. Depending on the number of staff and committees, identify what needs to be shared and build an effective implementation plan. Please remember to share context, the journey the board went through to arrive at this strategic choice, and specific feedback that helps your board or committees implement.
Important Tip – Board chairs and CEOs will notice the opportunity to raise the board’s perspective before other important topics. This can be quite an effective tactic especially when you want your board or committee to think strategically about an upcoming topic.
For those of you who have been running “Yes and” Circles for a while know that alignment on strategic choices often comes quickly, so you can skip or merge steps and move straight to the action plan. If the board has good momentum, keep them focused right through to action plan. If not, take a short break between “Yes and” circles to allow the board to refresh before you move them to the next XYZ.
NATURAL COMMUNICATION STYLE.
Each person has a natural communication style.
Understanding yours can and will impact how effective you are when dealing with friends, co-workers and clients.