Executive committees can serve a useful purpose in board governance. However, as Rebekah Burch Basinger cautions in a 2011 In Trust article, the use of executive committees has the potential to create division within a board.

 

Basinger argues that executive committees can become overly powerful and cliquey, keeping all important decision making for themselves and expecting the board at large to approve any decisions they make.

To avoid this pitfall, Basinger offers three steps to ensure that their executive committees are functioning appropriately in relation to the rest of the institution.

  • Define appropriate behavior

Examine bylaws to determine what language is in place to define the role of the executive committee. These bylaws should be explicit about the powers of the executive committee.

  • Test perceptions

It’s important for the executive committee and the board at large to communicate frequently and to define clearly the expectations each has about the governance process. Basinger acknowledges that this kind of self-assessment may not be easy, but it ensures successful shared governance.

  • Seek alternatives

Many boards feel that executive committees are necessary due to constraints of time, geography, and membership size of the larger board; executive committees are typically comprised of people who can dedicate more time to frequent meetings, so boards feel they must rely on them between board meetings. Basinger recommends boards look for other ways to address these challenges so that reliance on executive committees is not too great.

Basinger concludes by arguing that boards who are struggling with governance issues should first look at the executive committee, as issues within the executive committee often trickle down to the rest of the institution.

Do you agree? Have you experienced these types of issues; if so, what was done to remedy it?

If your school or organization is an In Trust organization member, you can read the full text of Rebekah Burch Basinger's article on executive committees