Do you still use an executive committee? Let it go.
Why Boards Have Executive Committees
Many nonprofit boards still have executive committees. Most of these boards haven’t stopped to consider why they have them or if they really need them. Like the old joke about cutting the end off the ham roast, we continue some practices long after they serve a purpose.
An executive committee is useful when it is difficult for the full board to meet, or when communications are difficult, or expensive, or slow. With so many options available now to connect groups of people quickly and cheaply, the only reasons for maintaining a standing executive committee are probably bad ones.
One popular rationale for an executive committee is that the board is too big to meet regularly or to make pressing decisions. But that is a case for reducing the size of the board, not for subdividing it.
Another rationale is that some decisions are too sensitive or require more confidentiality than can be expected from the full board. Again, that is a case for reducing the size of the board—or releasing any director who cannot keep confidences.
Four Reasons Why You Don’t Need an Executive Committee
First, an executive committee tends to become a mini-board over time. This undermines board unity. It erodes governance capacity.
Second, staff and those directors not on the executive committee may begin to see it as the “real board.” This can become confusing and disruptive.
Third, directors not on the executive committee may see themselves as a subordinate class of board member. This can reduce motivation, commitment, and participation.
Fourth, having an executive committee can mask problems that should be solved directly. This can delay action and threaten the health of the organization.
Let Go of the Executive Committee
If your board still has an executive committee, try this test: suspend use of the committee for a specific time, say 18 to 24 months. Do this with the understanding that at the end of the test period, everything reverts to how it was, unless the board decides to make a change.
During the test, operate as much as possible as a full board, using committees only to carry out particular assignments at the direction of the board. As challenges come up, take time to understand the cause. Is the problem a result of not using an executive committee? Or is it an indication of a larger board issue?
10-minute Board Discussion
[For boards with executive committees] How does having an executive committee change the way we work as a board?
[For boards without executive committees] Does each of our committees serve an ongoing purpose?
Image courtesy of iStockphoto/skynesher
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