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Featured Question - August 11, 2003

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Does Policy Governance only work between a board and one executive, or can there be co-executives or a management team?


Policy Governance can work with different governance structures, such as co-executives or even management teams, but there are some important guidelines for the none traditional ones.  The most important item is that the ends and limitations apply to the whole group.  The co-executives or the management team succeed or fail as a group.  The board must treat them as a group, judge them as a group, and expect performance from them as a group. 

This is quite a shift for boards to make, especially on top of the dynamics of learning Policy Governance.  The current organizational approach is to manage individuals rather than groups.  One of the challenges to moving to Policy Governance is that it asks the board to treat the executive as if he or she were the whole organization.  This is groupness on a massive scale.  This shift to Policy Governance is easier if the board only has to deal with one person rather than multiple people.

A question may arise about assigning specific responsibilities to one of the individuals rather than the co-executives or the management team.  Although this can be done, the board should be very reluctant to do so.  This would be a staff-means issue and therefore would be controlled by the board through the establishment of executive limitations.  This means that the board should only establish this specific responsibility if would be imprudent or unethical to not have it.  It also means that the board isn't going to hold that specific individual responsible to carry out those responsibilities, but instead is going to hold the co-executives or the management team responsible.  If the person assigned fails to do what is asked, the co-executives or the management team will be expected to fix it, not the individual and not the board.

If this is the governance structure, the co-executives or the management team will have as much to learn as the board.  Few people have learned to function in a true group-accountability environment.  These are new skills and new thinking for almost all of everyone.  It is a bigger challenge than most people realize. 

Additional thoughts on this subject can be found on the Group Accountability page.

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