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Board Orientation: 3 Steps to Ensuring a Smooth Transition

THOROUGH AND THOUGHTFUL board orientation ensures the effectiveness of private club boards in transition. Club leaders often struggle to sustain key strategic initiatives due to the lack of continuity from one board to the next. Board orientation is an important step to ensure the continuity and consistency of board leadership and action.

How can new board members be brought up to speed quickly and efficiently? Here are three important steps.

1. Deep Background Understanding

Several mission-critical steps are required to provide incoming board members with an accurate and consistent understanding of the club’s governance methods. Each requires that newly elected board members read and review:

  • The club bylaws—This is the guiding document which gives the board
    its authority to act on behalf of the club’s members.
  • The board policy manual (BPM)—The BPM describes how the board will execute its duties.
  • The club strategic plan—The current strategic plan shows what key goals and objectives being pursued by the club while providing adequate supporting information to develop an understanding of the club’s future.
  • The club business plan—Developed by management, this document shows the tactical solutions being implemented for executing the club’s strategy.

Designating an established (sitting) board member as a mentor for each
new board member is a tactic that is growing among top clubs which want to ensure seamless transition from board to board. Most clubs gravitate to the benefits of evolutionary—rather than revolutionary—change.

2. Sharing of Tribal Wisdom

  • Sebastian Junger renewed thinking around the alluring value of “belonging” to small groups in his 2016 book entitled, “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.” The value of sharing collective values—tribal wisdom—is important to empowering new board members.
  • Tactics proving effective in passing along tribal knowledge are:
    Host a gathering of past presidents of the club to answer questions for rising board members. This enables the free exchange of information and background understanding for why the club uses—and doesn’t use—certain methods.
  • Engage an independent facilitator for a board orientation retreat which enables sitting board members to discuss current issues while being observed by incoming board members.
  • Review recent member surveys to enable new board members to understand issues and the quantitative support—or lack of—for current issues of the day.

Pairing exiting board members with incoming board members to discuss issues, viewpoints, and pressures current to the job of servant leader.

3. Current Issues Education

New board members are often unaware of the club’s past and are attuned only to issues that seem current and pressing to them and their friends. This lack of broader knowledge and understanding leads to factionalism and divides clubs—sometimes irreparably.

In addition to the board orientation tactic suggested above, clubs find benefit in the following tactics:

  • Conduct a board orientation meeting hosted by the incoming board members. Usually there are three new board members, so this step enables the new board members to state their viewpoints and support the views with data-points that may have been overlooked or minimized previously.
  • Describe the board’s self-evaluation process to enable incoming board members to fully understand the score-keeping and accountability requirements that are in place. Using the BPM is the proper starting point for such education
  • Arrange a joint review of current conditions with the club’s auditor and legal counsel for the purposes of answering newcomers’ questions and bringing emphasis to current and developing issues before the board.

Successfully onboarding new servant leaders is an extremely important responsibility. Many clubs rely upon the club manager simply organizing a board book filled with club documents that go unexplained and sometimes unread. The capability and wisdom of the next board defines the future of the club; it is important that club leaders give serious thought to the methods of transition from one board to the next.

Henry DeLozier is a principal at Global Golf Advisors, an international club management consulting firm that provides specialized services to more than 2,700 clients from offices in Toronto, Phoenix and Dublin (IR). He can be reached at [email protected] or visit