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How Can Board Chairs Pose Better Questions To Make Decisions?

-Beth Ellen Holimon

Effective decision-making is a cornerstone of successful nonprofit governance. One method that has consistently proven effective in navigating these challenges is the “Focused Conversation” method. This structured approach to discussions ensures that all relevant aspects of a topic are explored thoroughly, leading to better decision-making and stronger board engagement.These questions fall into four categories: objective, reflective, interpretive, and decisional. Each type serves a distinct purpose in guiding the discussion and ensuring that all aspects of a topic are thoroughly examined. Here’s how to utilize these focused questions and why they are crucial for nonprofit boards.

Board Decision Making

Board Decision Making

Objective Questions

Objective questions are fact-based and seek to gather clear, concrete information. They are essential for establishing a common understanding of the topic at hand. Examples include:

– What are the specific goals of this initiative?

– What resources do we currently have available?

– What are the key milestones and deadlines?

These questions help to set the stage for informed decision-making by ensuring that everyone has the same factual foundation. In a nonprofit board meeting, starting with objective questions can clarify the context and ensure that all members are aware of the relevant data and facts.

Reflective Questions

Reflective questions encourage board members to share their personal feelings, experiences, and perceptions related to the topic. These questions can provide insights into the emotional and subjective dimensions of the issue. Examples include:

– How do you feel about the proposed changes to our outreach program?

– What past experiences have shaped your views on this matter?

– What concerns or hopes do you have regarding this decision?

Reflective questions are crucial in a nonprofit context because they allow board members to express their personal connections to the organization’s mission and values. This can uncover underlying motivations and potential areas of resistance or support that might not be immediately apparent through objective data alone.

 Interpretive Questions

Interpretive questions delve into the meanings, implications, and underlying causes related to the topic. These questions encourage analysis and synthesis of information. Examples include:

– What are the potential long-term impacts of this decision on our community?

– How does this proposal align with our strategic goals and mission?

– What lessons can we learn from similar past initiatives?

Interpretive questions are vital for nonprofit boards as they help in understanding the broader context and implications of decisions. They promote critical thinking and ensure that the board considers the deeper significance of their choices, beyond the immediate facts and feelings.

Decisional Questions

Decisional questions are focused on action. They aim to guide the board towards making a concrete decision and identifying next steps. Examples include:

– What specific actions do we need to take to implement this plan?

– Who will be responsible for each task?

– What timeline should we establish for these actions?

These questions are essential for moving from discussion to decision and action. In nonprofit board meetings, decisional questions ensure that discussions lead to tangible outcomes, with clear accountability and timelines.

The use of focused questions in board meetings can transform your board for several reasons:

1. Comprehensive Understanding: By systematically addressing objective, reflective, interpretive, and decisional aspects, board members gain a well-rounded understanding of the issue. This leads to more informed and balanced decisions.

2. Inclusive Participation: Focused questions ensure that all board members have the opportunity to contribute their perspectives. This inclusivity is vital in a nonprofit setting, where diverse viewpoints can lead to more innovative and effective solutions.

3. Enhanced Engagement: Reflective and interpretive questions, in particular, engage board members on a deeper level, connecting their personal experiences and values to the organization’s mission. This fosters a stronger commitment to the board’s decisions.

4. Structured Decision-Making: Using a sequence of focused questions provides a clear structure for discussions. This can prevent meetings from becoming unfocused or dominated by a few voices, ensuring that all relevant aspects are considered.

5. Clear Outcomes: Decisional questions help translate discussions into clear, actionable steps. This ensures that board meetings result in concrete outcomes, with defined responsibilities and timelines, enhancing the board’s effectiveness.

Incorporating focused questions into nonprofit board meetings is a strategic approach to enhance decision-making. By addressing objective, reflective, interpretive, and decisional dimensions, boards can ensure comprehensive, inclusive, and action-oriented discussions. This method not only improves the quality of decisions but also strengthens the engagement and commitment of board members, ultimately contributing to the nonprofit’s success and impact. By fostering a culture of thoughtful inquiry and structured dialogue, nonprofit boards can navigate complex issues with greater clarity and confidence, driving their organizations forward in fulfilling their missions.

Reach out to The Hive Collective for help in designing your own Focused Conversations.


Attribution: The Focused Conversation method was developed by R. Brian Stanfield in The Art of Focused Conversation