The two previous posts focused on the value of establishing a code of conduct and a set of meeting procedures early in the board’s term. Achieving clarity on the board’s goals for the coming term is also an important component to decrease the likelihood of board disharmony. Most boards go through a strategic planning exercise at the beginning of the term. However, similar to a code of conduct, not all boards use the strategic plan as a living document to guide decision-making throughout the term. Strategic planning rightfully establishes the board’s long-term goals for the district which are then typically assigned to the superintendent to develop implementation plans for board approval.
Reaching agreement on the big goals for the coming term is not always easy, particularly if there are contentious issues related to school closures, reconfiguration and funding – and contentious issues are more the norm lately – but once hammered out and approved by board vote the strategic plan serves as an agreement to work towards those ends. There may well be disagreement on how to achieve the goals as staff bring back the operational and funding realities – and plans may need to be changed given those realities – but the initial agreement by vote that this is where we want to go should serve as a compass to guide future decisions. If there is not at least general agreement on what you want to achieve your board can spend a lot of unproductive time in the future months and years of the term.
It would be naive to suggest that a majority vote to approve the strategic plan means that all board members are in agreement. But one of the main tenants of a corporate board is that once a motion is approved, those who were in the minority agree to go along with the decision. This doesn’t necessarily mean the minority will be cheerleaders for the direction but ongoing dissension and undermining is not acceptable. I will write more on this in the next post but there is a misunderstanding in the minds of some trustees about the differences between a corporate board and the parliamentary system that has a party charged with the responsibility of providing an ongoing check and balance role to the governing party. In severe cases, trustees who continually undermine the work of the board can, depending on provincial and board rules, be censored and possibly excluded from certain board activities (more on this later).
A strategic plan is not set in stone and does not guarantee board harmony. But the lack of initial agreement on goals opens the door to ongoing dissension. It also increases the likelihood of boards spending too much time on non-strategic matters – the subject of Part 6: Role Clarity.