Time to Rethink Governance

It is July 31, and the world is now well into the second half of the first year DCE–During the COVID Era. Along with mastering new recipes, watching and listening to dozens of podcasts and webinars, and figuring out how to navigate Zoom (and Teams and more), we are gradually realizing that COVID-19 is less a crisis that comes and passes and more one that lingers so long that it becomes part of the way we live. Hand sanitizer and masks are probably with us for a very long time.

Likewise the remote board and committee meeting. What if in-person, face-to-face meetings becomes a relic of a bygone era, January 2020? What if Zoom (which will be supplanted someday by something else) is the de facto medium through which those of us on private, independent and international school boards will govern, not just now but long into the future?

This is certainly true for the 2020-21 school year, and much longer if vaccine development and therapeutics lag, so we think there is merit in governance and executive committees asking two questions now:

  1. Given that we will be meeting remotely this year, how can we organize our work and materials to maintain trustee engagement and ensure effective governance; and
  2. What advantages might there be in doing some or all of our board work remotely, even if a time comes when we can routinely meet in-person again?

The first question is immediate as the next board meeting is coming right up for most schools. Many boards have held less formal updates over the past few months on a frequent schedule, so members should have a decent grasp of how management is beginning the school year and dealing with the vast uncertainty that surrounds this virus and its handling by local, state and federal officials. What then are the one, two or (at most) three things that your board must discuss now to (a) be most useful to management, and (b) put/keep the school on course to emerge stronger after the acute crisis eases?

The second question carries less urgency but no less importance. Cost is certainly one factor, especially for boarding schools whose members travel to attend meetings (some estimates from the corporate sector suggest a 90% expense reduction from remote meetings). But what about engagement? Could shorter remote meetings (there is, after all, only so long one can Zoom at a time) be a way to keep the school closer to the front of trustees’ minds than the traditional board calendar? Could remote meetings be a way to broaden and diversify the pool of talent from which you recruit new trustees?

Time to rethink governance DCE. We very likely aren’t going back.

Business and leadership, Governance, Headship  |  permalink

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