Three modes of governance

World in You hosted a board training workshop in April 2022 for ACE, a nonprofit working to end child labor in the world. After a lecture about nonprofit governance and the board's roles, ACE's board and staff members engaged in dialogue on the current status of their board and how they want the board to be. Thank you very much the ACE team for the wonderful learning opportunity!

In this article, I (Mio Yamamoto) would like to reflect on the training and write about the importance of "reflecting on the board as a team" (or on any team or organization).


An ideal board is different for every organization

When working to improve your board and governance, it is of course important to gain knowledge about the role of the board, how to run it, and what governance means. However, it is also critical to use the knowledge as a common language to share each other's perspectives on the current status of their organization's board.

There is no single correct answer to the question of how a board should be. It depends on the organization and organizational phase. As Bill Ryan stated in Governance as Leadership (in the preface of a Japanese translation by World in You), "What does our particular organization – with our culture, values, and goals – need from our board?"

When talking about the future, it is useful to start by checking where we are now. By sharing how we feel about the current situation, commonalities and differences in perceptions will become clearer. It is often difficult to have a productive discussion about the current status objectively with fresh eyes since everyone has their viewpoint.


Using frameworks to activate collective metacognition

In such cases, frameworks and other tools can be helpful to facilitate metacognition as a group. Frameworks, or simplified specific lenses to look things at, help us clear our thinking and compare differences and similarities in each other's viewpoints. Frameworks that have long been used are especially handy to use.

One powerful framework that we often use at World in You is the three modes of governance proposed in Governance as Leadership. We can ask each other, for example, "When and how much have we used each mode?" and "How do we want to use them in the future?"

I know we all are busy, but taking a moment to collectively talk about our current situation would often lead to new insights, more self-confidence, a shared understanding of our challenges, and motivation for a better us. World in You did our board's self-assessment two years ago and articulated our board's roles. This process has helped us form a shared evaluation of our board's values, and focus the energy of the board members and the board on the value points.

Many nonprofits in Japan are approaching the time for board elections around this time of the year. This might be a good time to talk about the current status of the board.