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  • Writer's pictureBill

Turn your family child association board of directors into the A-team

In the last post, we talked about the benefits of your FCC association board working as a great team. This week, we’ll cover some steps you can follow to build a board that’s engaged and gets things done. The steps are:

1. Get the right board members

2. Be clear on roles and responsibilities

3. Build psychological safety

4. Communicate, communicate, communicate

As you might expect, building a great board starts with getting the right board members on your team. We’ll dive into recruiting in a future blog post but for today, we want to make sure potential board members are excited by your association’s vision, mission, and aspirations. If they are as excited about your mission as you are, then there is a greater chance they will be an engaged board member and do more than just show up.

Next, the roles and responsibilities for a board member needs to be spelled out in your board member agreement (you have one of those, right?) That way each board member knows what’s expected of her. Similarly, the association needs a clear and simple plan that defines its goals and steps to achieve them. This helps a board member understand where the organization is headed, and his role in making that happen.

So now you have a board filled with members that are excited by the mission of the organization. They want to help make the vision for family child care providers in your community/state a reality. They understand their roles and the association’s plans. Your next task is ongoing, and quite possibly the most important. And that is to build a sense of “psychological safety” in your board members.

Back in 2012, Google employees wanted to know why some teams were successful, and why others were not. So they studied 180 Google teams and found the most important characteristic of successful teams was that they had created a sense of “psychological safety” among the team members.

You may not have heard the term psychological safety before, but you know what it looks like. It’s the relationship you have with a spouse, family member or friend, where you can say something totally stupid, or admit to a mistake, knowing that the listener will not judge you harshly or think less of you.

Creating an environment where board members feel safe means your new members will ask questions that help them get up to speed. It means board members can offer up ideas that are contrary to the group’s current thinking and may even be controversial. And it means it is easier for us to hold each other accountable.

So how do you go about creating psychological safety in your board?

You’ve already completed the first step, i.e. awareness! Yeah! Recognizing the need for safety and that you need to continually work on it with your board is a huge part of the process.

Next, consider the following:

In many family child care homes, there are rules of behavior. A board needs the same (but hopefully not one on biting or hitting!) Through your board member agreement and your association’s values statement, you can define how board members are expected to treat each other.

In your board meetings, make it a priority to explore all aspects of an issue and strongly encourage people to offer dissenting opinions. Make it a habit that no ideas are adopted until the negative aspects of the idea have been explored. “So we agree that’s a great idea for the conference. Now, what are the downsides? What could go wrong?” This creates the expectation that the expression of opposing opinions is the norm. And remember, we are discussing the idea, not the person that put forth the idea.

Which leads to my next point, encourage compassion. This should be very natural for family child care providers. People can feel compassion, and it helps build trust which leads to a more open and creative relationship among the team members.

The last tip for creating psychological safety in your board is when things go wrong, and we all know they do, lead with curiosity, not blame. Mistakes happen, use them as learning opportunities. Refusing to play the “blame game” creates a safe environment where people know they can fail and not be ostracized by the team.

So now you have a board filled with members who are energized by your vision and mission. They know what their roles are, what the organization wants to do and how it’s going to go about doing it. You are constantly working to make sure the team feels psychologically safe, which spurs creativity and accountability. My last tip is:

Communicate, communicate, communicate!

As I mentioned in the first post of this series, family child care association members typically spend less than 40 hours a year in board meetings. That means outside of your conference and other similar events, board members see each other once a month. If you miss a meeting, then you lose contact with other members for two months. Granted some board members have interactions outside of the board through social or religious connections, but that’s not the case for all of your board members.

To keep your members engaged and active, they need to feel that they are important to the association and its mission. Find a reason to email your board members at least once or twice a month, keep the board on their mind. It’s easier than you might think to create these emails.

Consider this schedule: week one is your board meeting. Week two the minutes and updates from the board meeting go out. Week three, you poll all the board members for agenda items for the next meeting (you do that, right?) Week four is open and even if you do nothing, week one rolls around again and now you have three “touches” for your board members a month. I’ve been on boards where there is zero communication between board meetings except a flurry of emails just before the board meeting (if that.) I’m frequently wondering what’s going on and if we are making any progress. Don’t leave your board members in the dark! That’s a sure-fire way to cause them to disengage from the board’s work.

So again, here are four key actions to help you build a successful board over the long haul:

1. Get the right board members

2. Create clear goals

3. Build psychological safety

4. Communicate, communicate, communicate

In the next post in this series, we’ll talk about how to construct a board agenda that gets things done and supports all the steps above.

As always, other opinions, perspectives, and suggestions for building better boards are welcome!


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