Positive Governing Body Culture (Norms) Copy

Every organization has a culture

Culture is the positive or negative atmosphere created by the way people in an organization treat each other. “This means how a board governs is every bit as important as the decisions a board makes. In fact, the way a board governs affects its ability to come to consensus about the direction for the district, its effectiveness in establishing a positive climate that achieves the best from its staff, and its credibility as an advocate for the district and for children.

The governance team needs to create a framework within which they can work respectfully and competently with each other, and with district staff, parents, students and the community. The team does this by developing, agreeing on, and committing to norms.

Agreeing on governance norms is how governing bodies build
and maintain a positive culture or shift a negative one.

What are norms?

Norms are behaviors that are widely accepted by the people within an organization. They are agreements about how board members will respond to and interact with the community, parents, students, staff, the superintendent and fellow board members. Norms often involve topics such as respect for others, communication within and outside the group, managing conflict, and arriving at consensus.  They may also have to do with practical matters such as arriving at meetings on time, remaining until the meeting is over, being prepared to fully participate, use of cell phones, sending and/or receiving text messages, etc.

Why are norms important?

As elected officials, board members continually carry their elected status with them wherever they go.  Whether in the boardroom, out in the community or at home, board members are always trustees for the school district. The integrity of the district’s educational program is dependent upon the responsible and professional manner in which each board member, and the board collectively, fulfill governance roles and responsibilities. Board members ran as individuals but serve as part of an elected body with collective authority. The best decisions are likely to be made when members interact respectfully with each other, staff, and constituent groups and thoughtfully consider everyone’s contributions.

When board members and superintendents work well together, a climate of trust, confidence and excellence is created which enables staff members to feel supported and positive about the district’s future, encouraging them to work as hard as possible at supporting students in their quest for learning.  Establishing a positive culture within the governing body and in the district creates a sense of confidence in the community that the district is operating effectively on behalf of students.

Agree on Behavioral Expectations (norms)

NORMS = How we act toward each other.

Effective teams have clear norms, (or expectations for behavior), set by the team’s members.  Once developed, these norms shape how team members behave with each other.

Group expectations help a group work together to not only address difficult issues in an objective and consistent way, but also to confirm what each member will do in the normal course of business to help the team succeed.  The team gains in two ways.  One way is that the exercise serves to confirm desired behaviors.  The second way is that clear group norms provide guidance for orienting future new members to the team.

Developing norms is an essential activity whenever a new team is being formed. Once in place, the norms are posted, referred to when behaviors become less than desirable and amended as the team grows and changes.

Norms are best developed by the members of the team. Bringing in norms from outside and asking the members to adhere to them will only work if the members have an opportunity to ratify the outside norms and agree to accept them.

Key Point:        “We all didn’t share the same dinner table.”

Team members each grow up with different experiences, have different interpretations of common words, have different work ethics, and have different personal needs.

Creating behavioral expectations can bridge the gap of various interpretations of what defines desired behavior.  The result is a common language of what group members expect from each other.  Behavioral expectations, fully articulated, will spell out how team members will communicate and behave in order to effectively work together.

It is important that positive behavioral expectations are identified before entering into discussions that might have significant personal and/or emotional impact on team members. The following questions can help frame governance team discussions:

  1. What do I need from others on the team in order for me to be effective?  
  2. What agreements would help us be most effective in doing our governance work, particularly during public meetings?  
  3. What agreements would help us relate effectively to each other?
  4. What does the board need from the superintendent, what does the superintendent need from the board, and what do board members need from each other in order to carry out our respective responsibilities?