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Communication, Collaboration and Defining Roles: Boards and Management Relationships

Ladies and gentlemen, we are all on the same team. What an important message this is when trying to bridge the gap between boards and management. It is worth repeating: We are on the same team.

A natural tension exists between club boards and management.

This dynamic should not be surprising: two different interested parties, two different backgrounds, both trying (hopefully) to achieve the same goals. One group is comprised of paid club industry profes- sionals, the other is a volunteer group made up generally of successful businesspeople who come to the board with the best of intentions. Board members are volunteers who often do not have any direct experience in club operations; club COOs are professionals who have spent many years learning their trade. Board members rotate; COOs remain in place (hopefully) for several years. Is it a surprise that they see things from different perspectives? Not at all.

This tension is not necessarily a bad thing and can, if addressed, be a source of positive energy that can fuel lots of good things. The dynamic sharing of ideas between the board and senior management in an environment that is nurturing and positive will get your club to operate at its highest level.

In “The Fearless Organization,” by Amy C. Edmonson, the thesis is that in environments in which we do not feel psychologically safe, we cannot thrive, and the organization cannot achieve its goals. If senior managers constantly feel anxious about expressing themselves and if the Board does not feel comfortable being honest and open with senior management, the organization cannot thrive. This concept is rather obvious and yet, boards and management are far too often pitted against each other in some kind of battle to prove who is right and who is better equipped to manage the club. For a club to be highly functioning, there must be a sense of trust that the individuals participating in the running of the club have the same goal in mind: to continually enhance the member experience, to protect the club’s assets and to create a healthy environment for employees. As servant leaders, we are called upon to lead the way to creating a fearless organization in which the board and senior management can communicate openly, honestly and without fear of reprisal or judgment.

To create a fearless environment, we must be comfortable commu- nicating and willing to collaborate to meet our collective challenges. Creating such an environment is not necessarily impossible but requires a lot of time and effort. There are three pillars on which a healthy and fearless environment rests: defined roles, communication and collaboration. The terms communication and collaboration are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. I realize that some of this is a bit chicken-and-egg in terms of cause and effect. From my perspective, I like to begin with the players understanding their respective roles.

Clearly Defined Roles

One of the most difficult challenges many boards and management face is understanding the differences in their respective roles. Getting everyone to agree that while we are all on the same team, we have different areas of expertise and responsibilities. Sometimes these roles are defined in club documents but ignored or have never been memorialized. Defining roles is a critical step in creating a healthy operating environment for the board and management. Naturally, there are areas of overlap and shared responsibility, but there is little doubt (at least in my mind) that there are certain elements of operating a club that should be left exclusively to the board and others, exclusively to management.

Both parties need to understand their specific responsibilities from the outset to achieve the club’s principal goals. The board acts as the governing body, influencing strategic decisions, long-term planning, and setting the club’s mission and vision. Their duties include establishing policies, ensuring financial stability, overseeing admissions and memberships, approving budgets and upholding the club’s culture.

On the other hand, senior management, led by the GM/COO, translates the board’s strategic vision into actionable plans, managing day-to-day operations, staffing, facilities, member services, and financial oversight.


Communication as defined (loosely) is the process of exchanging information, ideas, thoughts or feelings between individuals or groups. It involves the transmission of messages through various channels such as verbal, non-verbal, written, or visual means. Communication is a fundamental aspect of human interaction and is essential for conveying thoughts, sharing knowledge, and coordinating actions. As we have all learned perhaps hundreds of times the key to successful communication is listening. No matter how many times this has been written, talked about or discussed on the personal and professional levels, we must remind ourselves to listen mindfully, without interruption, without our minds drifting off, checking our mobile devices; not doing all those things that we know distract us from listening. And yes, part of the listening process involves, at the appropriate time, asking thoughtful questions that will further the

conversation and hopefully lead to a deeper understanding of what the person is saying to you. (Getting colleagues to listen to you and each other can be a real challenge. I remember asking colleagues during a meeting to please nod their heads or please show some outward sign that they understood what I was saying and why I was saying it.)

This applies to boards and management: if you do not understand something, say so. If you disagree say so, and why you disagree. If something is not clear, ask for it to be clarified. Meet more than once a year to review goals and objectives.

Specific to board members: revisiting goals and objectives at the end of the year, as bonuses are being decided on, is possibly the least productive exercise imaginable. This happens throughout the industry. Board representatives (most likely the club president) and management (COO) need to meet regularly outside of the board room to allow for honest and open assessment of how things are going throughout the year. I have heard countless stories from colleagues that go something like this: I thought things were going along well, board meetings were relatively smooth, the president or executive committee didn’t say anything all year, only to find out that the board is supposedly not happy with my performance, and they’ve cut my bonus. Talk (pun intended) about poor communication. This scenario should never happen, but it does.


Collaboration, on the other hand, refers to the act of working together with others to achieve a common goal or purpose. It involves a collective effort where individuals combine their skills, knowledge, and resources to produce a shared outcome. Collaboration is more about the joint work and mutual contribution of team members toward a specific objective.

Challenges in collaboration, such as unclear roles or resistance to change, can be addressed through ongoing communication. Regular reviews and updates of roles help reflect the evolving needs of the club. Open dialogue between the board and senior management allows both parties to stay in sync. Effective communication, where expectations are communicated by the board and operational challenges and successes are shared by senior management, ensures a relationship built on trust and transparency. Overcoming challenges becomes more manageable in an environment where both parties can openly express their perspectives in a fearless environment.

Although the board and senior management have distinct responsibilities, collaboration is vital for effective club functioning. Establishing clear communication channels ensures that the board’s strategic goals are well-understood and effectively executed by senior management. Regular formal and informal meetings provide opportunities for dialogue, fostering transparency and unity. Collaborative efforts involve aligning the board’s strategic vision with the operational realities faced by senior management through a comprehensive strategic plan. Mutual understanding becomes the cornerstone of successful collaboration. Ladies and gentlemen, we are all on the same team—different roles, same goals.