Making Decisions as a Body
Your board team will have to make dozens of decisions, all the way from deciding meeting times to deciding to build a new building. Good decisions are made through a logical, common-sense process that includes plenty of pertinent information, expert advice, experience, vision, and exchange of ideas among members of the board team.
Politics, special interests, and personal bias are realities that always come into play when a board attempts to make a team decision, but with a well-understood and followed decision-making process, those elements can be controlled and the board team can make good decisions.
The following steps will lead to effective board decisions:
Define the Issue Clearly
First make sure that all members of the board team are on the same channel. You could deliberate for hours on an issue that deserves only a few minutes if all board members aren't clear about what the issue really is. The best way to avoid that is to get a motion on the table right away, so everyone can focus on that specific motion. The chairperson should make it clear to all what a positive or a negative vote means. If you are not clear about the intent or meaning of the motion, ask the maker of the motion to clarity.
Look at the Information
Good information is the only way a board team can understand enough about the issues to make good decisions. Your experience is a prime source of valuable information. Other board members also will have valuable information and insights.
Board members are not on the front line with the daily business of the library and probably have limited expertise in library management. That means you have to rely on information from a variety of other people. The director and committee reports are standard sources for information about the issues that come before the board. Call on outside experts when necessary. Board members aren't appointed for their expertise and experience in running a library, but rather their ability to ask the right questions, draw upon their experience and leadership skills, and make good, informed decisions for the benefit of the library and community.
Consider the Alternatives
Approach every issue with an open mind, believing that there is more than one side to every issue. What seems obvious at first glance may prove to have serious consequences down the road. Play "devil's advocate," ask tough questions, and encourage other members of the team to voice opinions even though they may not agree with the majority.
Even a strong recommendation from the director or a board committee should not be accepted without a hard look at the possible alternatives. The director and committees should be expected to deliver a list of alternatives they have considered in arriving at their final recommendation.
You should expect a recommendation from your director on all issues before the board. Never be afraid to seek help from outside the board from attorneys and other specialists who can help you make the decision. Just remember that no matter who recommends what or who advises you how to vote, the board has the ultimate responsibility and liability for the decisions they make. You can't blame others for your poor decisions.
Keep in mind your mission and goals .All that you do should be in line with the mission of the library. Every decision the board makes should be in line with the five-year master plan of the library and somehow advance the mission. You should also be able to say that every decision is for the greatest good of those who use the library.
Project the Consequences
This is where the board members vision comes in. A board decision cannot be made in isolation from all other things going on in the library. You must consider how this decision will affect people, programs, and plans. How will the community be affected by your decision? Are there possible legal problems with this decision? Will a decision to spend money in one area mean that less money will be available for other areas?
A decision today could well have consequences for years to come. For example, a decision to build a new building would be very shortsighted if it did not take into consideration the cost of upkeep and maintenance for the life of the building.
This is where you put it all together and voice your own individual decision on the issue. Set aside personal bias and emotions, and cast the vote for what you think is the best decision for the library.