Association Boards and Staff: Mutual Respect = Maximum Effectiveness

Picture of Staff


Published work involves contributions from multiple staff members in copywriting and editorial roles, with possible integration of AI technology


Healthy internal relationships and mutual respect are critical to the success of any organization, and professional and trade associations are no exception. But those relationships can be incredibly difficult to manage.

For associations, this rings especially true between board members and the staff. Blurred lines of responsibility can leave the two parties at odds. When left unaddressed, it becomes detrimental to the growth of the organization.

Transparency is a Fine Line

Transparency in the workplace – often defined by open, honest, and direct communication – is a worthwhile goal.

But being transparent doesn’t mean informing everyone of every detail of your work. In fact, doing so can actually end up backfiring in more ways than one.

When staff members feel the need to constantly update their board with every minute detail, they run the risk of breeding relationships built on micromanagement. Doing so may pressure board members to weigh in on every minor decision, and ultimately distract them from the bigger issues at hand.

Building a Positive Relationship Between Association Board Members and Staff

Here are our best tips for how association board members and staff can work together:

As mentioned, it can be the tendency of staff to overshare — in the name of transparency — in ways that end up working against them. Bringing every little issue to the attention of board members may distract them from getting their job done. It can also fuel distrust among board members who rightfully expect that staff are managing the issues and projects they are hired to manage. Board members are put in place to govern. Staff is hired to carry out the board’s vision and manage the affairs of the organization. When both parties understand and respect their unique roles, it creates trust, harmony, and efficiency.

Staff should regularly evaluate the level of information they are sharing at any given time. Focus board conversations on removing roadblocks, and on those items that require specific board action. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with making sure board members are kept up to date on the status of key projects. But it should be done in a way that reassures the board that initiatives are on track and under control.

Sometimes it’s what a board hasn’t been told that’s holding them back. Without an understanding of roles, it can be difficult to grasp where their responsibilities end and the staff’s begin. Similarly, if everyone on staff has been functioning under a “wearer of many hats” mentality, it may be worth taking the time to delineate for efficiency’s sake.

It’s only natural that board members, as leaders, may want to take charge and start digging into the nitty-gritty. A board orientation process can establish clear boundaries and help refine your organizational chart. For new board members, help them find their way by providing as much framework as possible around what it takes to be a good board member.

A good agenda is not necessarily an agenda chock full of every possible detail. It should be relevant to board member responsibilities, and be designed to propel the board meeting forward.

With that in mind, set an agenda that remains conscious of high-level policies and objectives, rather than detailing the ins and outs of staff tasks or committee work. Emphasize those items that require board action.

One of the board’s primary responsibilities is to focus on long-term planning, while the staff is focused on the day-to-day.

Help the board remain focused on developing and regularly evaluating the organization’s strategic plan. Not only does it make the best, highest use of a board member’s limited time, it will inevitably help in developing a framework for staff to operate within, and allow both the board and staff to measure their collective progress over time.

Micromanagement is often a phenomenon fueled by both sides. Awareness and understanding of distinct board and staff roles can help both parties forge a strong relationship that leads to the best possible outcomes for the association’s members. Frontline can provide further guidance around doing just that— contact us today!



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