A: Traditionally, the
role of the Executive Committee was to act on behalf of the board during the
interim times between board meetings. Because of that important role, the
committee was traditionally comprised of the board officers and committee
As things evolved over time, rather
than just meeting and acting when needed, the Executive Committee came to be a
standing committee, meeting every month, typically one week prior to the board
meeting. At those meetings, the Executive Committee generally reviews the major
issues facing the organization, weighing pros and cons and making preliminary
decisions, to be ratified by the board as a whole at the actual board
Along the way,another change has
taken place that has dramatically impacted the role of the Executive Committee:
With easy access to conference calls and email, there is no longer a need for a
small body to act on behalf of the board between meetings. In the event of an
emergency, a board can meet via phone or internet at any time. And that renders
the most critical role of the Executive Committee
However, obsolescence is not the
worst news about Executive Committees:
In almost every board with a strong,
active Executive Committee, the board as a whole is disengaged. That should
come as no surprise - the board's role has been usurped by the Executive
Committee! When the Executive Committee has already discussed the “good
stuff,” the only remaining role for the board as a whole is to act as a
ratifying body. And that is not very engaging! (Not to mention the fact that
the board as a whole is accountable for that decision. With that being the
case, shouldn't the whole board participate in the discussions that lead to
The Executive Committee's primary
purpose is obsolete. And the committee's spirit of engagement is actually
disengaging the rest of the board. It is definitely time to re-think the role
of the Executive Committee.
Transforming Your Executive
If the above is reflective of your
board, take some time at your board meeting to discuss some of the following
in a while, there is the need for board-level decisions to be made between
- In those circumstances, what does your board want the
protocol to be? Who will decide whether or not the board needs to meet for that
- How will the interim meeting be held? What approach is
your board most comfortable with? (Internet meetings via email discussion, via
chat room? Conference calls? Video conference? Etc.)
- What are the legalities of holding meetings in your
state / province? Is it legal to meet / make decisions in any manner other than
face to face?
- Will any of these changes to procedure require a bylaws
Creating a Committee of the Board
Organizations who consider
eliminating the primary purpose of the Executive Committee - those interim
decisions - often lament the loss of the committee that embodied the
institutional wisdom of the board. Because the officers and committee chairs
are usually the longest tenured board members, there is often a sense that
these individuals should be meeting together, to help guide the work of the
Your board might then consider
renaming and restructuring the Executive Committee, to become the Committee of
the Board. The role of that committee would be to ensure the board has
everything it needs to do its job.
To that end, have your board
consider the following questions:
would help our board do its job better?
could the committee be doing, to ensure all board members are engaged in the
board’s leadership role?
could they help aim the board at community end results as the board’s
primary area of accountability? How could they help the board focus on
measuring the organization’s results in the community?
could this committee help the board understand how to be accountable for legal
oversight and operational oversight?
role might this committee have in annual planning for the organization? In
creating and maintaining the board’s ongoing education program?
might the committee’s role be in recruitment? Orientation?
this be the group that should set the agenda for the board’s
other work might this committee handle, to ensure the board has everything it
needs to do its job in a way that effectively and accountably aims at creating
great results for the community?
As your board discusses these Board
Mechanics issues, other issues will arise. Perhaps succession planning (for
board members and for the staff). Perhaps a specific board issue that has been
a hot-button issue for a while.
By freeing up the Executive
Committee to become the Committee of the Board, this committee will be charged
with actively advocating for the board’s needs, to make that body as
effective as possible in leading the organization to create great community