Generative Thinking By Boards

You’ve often heard us talk about the three facets of a community:


 

 

But there are also three modes of governance for your association board. Governance as Leadership; (Chait, Ryan & Taylor, 2005).

In the fiduciary mode, boards are concerned with being the steward of the association’s physical assets. In the strategic mode the board creates a strategic partnership with its business partners, (primarily management) to govern the community. And, in the generative mode, the board looks at the problems and opportunities facing the association through wisdom, insight, and creativity. In this article we will explore one of the tools your board can use to truly embrace and master each of the three modes of governance.

Many board members routinely practice generative thinking in their everyday lives as managers, professionals, and leaders.  But this innate skill isn’t named or structured so when those same board members enter an association board meeting, they do not necessarily practice it. Generative thinking requires board members to intentionally look at things in different ways – from a different perspective. So how do you make sure your board uses this tool to produce good, strong decisions, and thoughtful leadership for the association? Through a process.

1)    Consider Interpretations of Data. Ever wonder why people can take the same data and facts and reach different or even conflicting conclusions? This occurs because people create reason or understanding by focusing only on the information that fits their “reality”. Consider the board that had five bids for a roofing project: two of the board members see the prices as about the same since they are within a few hundred dollars of each other.  But one board member sees one bid as substantially different because he/she focused not on the price, but on how the services and steps offered in the bid were very different.

2)    Choose a Frame. Because you need to make sense of all the information you receive as a board member, considering it through various frames can produce more well rounded decisions. Consider these frames as suggested by Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice and Leadership (Bolman & Deal, 1997).

a.    Structural – Focus on authority, rules, regulations, priorities, procedures, plans, and control.

b.    People – Focus on relationship or fit between residents and association, members’ needs and contentment.

c.    Policies – Focus on exercise of power, coalitions, compromise, negotiation, and allocation of resources.

d.    Symbolic – Focus on the association’s culture, myths, meaning, and beliefs.

By looking at data or situations through each of these four frames, board members may see opportunities and problems differently.

3)    Think Retrospectively. While we don’t want to “get stuck in the past”, making sense of the past can, in different ways, produce different future actions. For example, reviewing a past successful recall of the entire board, you may discover it occurred because of a clear coalition among a small group of owners who exercised power via a proxy battle.  This may or may not mean that the majority of owners were that unhappy with the direction of the prior board.  Or the recall may have occurred because the prior board was acting outside its authority and contrary to the governing documents of the association.  In which case future actions of the new board should be carefully evaluated against those same documents.

Armed with this three step process, boards that make the commitment can collaborate with their association managers to generate creative, insightful, and thoughtful decisions as leaders of their communities.

By: Loura K. Sanchez

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