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Tips for how you can upgrade your governance practices to get everyone on the same page

Q: Do you have any tips for how we can upgrade our governance practices to get everyone on the same page?

A: Consultant-speak for “getting everyone on the same page” is to increase “alignment” in your organization. This is beneficial in any enterprise, but more difficult to accomplish and of greater benefit in a private club where it is a community endeavor and there are typically many varied opinions regarding the future. Add rotating leadership, annual presidencies and all-too-frequent management changes and establishing agreement on purpose and maintaining continuity is difficult.

There are a couple of relatively easy practices club leaders can spread across the membership to improve continuity in administrations. One very effective tool is an annual board retreat. There are substantial benefits to carving out a half- or full-day session soon after a new board is formed to talk about the year ahead. The agenda for a typical board meeting is naturally filled with tasks that have to be addressed month by month. This curtails further-reaching discussions that can be beneficial, but are not appropriate at that time. Whereas the typical board meeting is about looking back to review what has occurred, a board retreat is about looking ahead.

A board retreat should cover topics like the overall environment and key issues affecting private clubs, discussion of the club’s strengths and weaknesses and setting goals for the year ahead. This will provide the opportunity to identify and assign tasks that go beyond regular board or committee responsibilities. It will position the board to complete another important function, which is an annual evaluation of their performance. This one day can yield a lot of benefits for the rest of the year, including greater harmony and understanding among the directors.

Another great opportunity that clubs often fail to take advantage of is building agreement among standing committees. Those serving on committees are a loyal core of members who willingly give their time and energy to help the club. They play a key role in carrying out broader goals and they can help spread a common message to the larger membership. Unfortunately, most committees operate in a vacuum. They are focused on their task—House, Entertainment, Golf, Racquet Sports, etc.—often with little knowledge of the club’s overall goals or the issues being discussed in the other committees.

Another practice to increase alignment is to hold an all- committee meeting at the start of the club year. This session gathers all committee members who will be serving on standing committees and gives them insight into the club’s broader strategy in order to provide an understanding of how their work fits in with the larger plan. Each of the committee chairs could also explain what they are working on to increase awareness of the different departments and identify ways that other committees could support them in their work. Of course, it is also a time to answer any questions this key group might have and to thank them for volunteering to help the club.

Volunteer members have only so much time. Investing in a couple key meetings at the start of the year can go a long way to making that time more fulfilling for them and worthwhile for the club.

Frank Vain is president of McMahon Group, Inc., a premier full-service, private club consulting firm serving more than 1,700 private clubs around the world. He also serves as a director of NCA and chairs the Communications Committee. He can be reached at [email protected]. For more information, visit