Boards, especially in the non-profit world are not static entities. Unless they grow along with the growth of the non-profit they represent they will eventually stall out the effectiveness of that organization.
Consider, for instance five identifiable kinds of non-profit boards.
1. The Board of Friends and Relatives. Organizations start with the vision of an entrepreneur who has a vision to change something that needs changing. There is nothing more natural than to find a group of friends and ask them to help you by serving as your board. The upside is that you have some advocates who will help you get the organization started. The downside is that they are friends and will not easily challenge the leader as the organization grows. Friends rarely challenge friends and certainly easily acquiesce to them. Thus while the board of friends and relatives may be appropriate for a season, it is only a season.
2. The Perpetual Board. These are boards that have no real mechanism for adding or subtracting board members and they serve in perpetuity. I have worked with these boards and they can be characterized as ingrown, a determination to hang on to power and control the staff of the organization, are resistant to change and are often led by a strong individual - perhaps the individual who had the original vision for the organization's mission. That individual often controls the board that controls the organization. There is not much upside to Perpetual Boards as they remain locked in the past while the organization needs to move forward.
3. The Controlling Board. These are boards that feel that nothing can take place in the organization without their blessing. Many church boards function this way. Rather than empowering the leaders of the organization, they essentially hold them hostage by requiring that they receive permission for anything they do. In addition, they often get involved in the affairs of the staff when in fact, staff should report not to a board but to the leader of the organization who reports to the board. Controlling boards do not understand the role of a board and the role of staff and will keep the organization from becoming all that it can become. In my view, there is no upside to a Controlling Board.
4. The Protective Board. These boards believe that it is their job to protect their leader at all costs. In the church it is why arrogant leaders get away with their behavior when the rest of the world knows something is not right. Boards are not there to simply protect the leader but the organization.
5. The Healthy Board. These are boards that empower leaders within boundaries while holding them accountable, are clear about the mission and its results, encourage robust debate and dialogue and ensure the health of the organization. This is a very different kind of board than the first four boards and unless boards move in this direction they will hinder the capacity and opportunity of the organization.
All boards exist on a continuum between dysfunction and maturity. Healthy boards regularly access where they are and have an annual plan to up their game and governance. This starts with regular self analysis and even hiring a coach when necessary to move to the next level of maturity. Healthy boards lead healthy organizations whereas dysfunctional boards contribute to dysfunctional organizations.