Creating the executive team

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Here in Santa Rosa,the Board needed a viable way to overcome micro-managing, and Policy Governance mapped the way. The Board studied it, adopted a comprehensive set of policies, and designed an Executive Team to fulfill the role of CEO. Our "X-Team" is comprised of myself [as minister] overseeing church program, our office manager [administrator] overseeing operations, a liaison from the Personnel committee responsible for personnel issues, and the treasurer overseeing the realms of finance. (The treasurer's position was shifted to the Executive Team and off the Board, where he now sits non-voting, ex officio. This brought the Board down to 8 members, the minimum allowed by the bylaws). The Exec Team meets twice monthly for an hour and a half, with our Board president sitting in when he can. I'm impressed with how effectively our team is working. We stay on task, and manage to keep team meetings within 90 minutes while making well-considered decisions. Notes of Team meetings are part of the Board's monthly meeting packet, and an oral update on the most significant issue or two of the moment is part of the Board agenda -- enabling Board members to continue to "know what's going on" without having to manage it all.

Margaret Keip, Interim Minister, Santa Rosa, CA, 1999

-- following up, on this --

Personally I've one observation about our Executive Team structure. First, we are still in process and that means we proceed through murky waters, developing practices as we struggle on. So far we have not needed to spell out particulars of the roles played by the four Team members, and I don't think that will ever be necessary. They know what their roles are and the Board need not tell each what they can (and particularly, cannot) do.

The representative from Personnel was changed to a congregant-at-large. There were so few times when personnel matters came up at Executive Team meetings, that inclusion was superfluous, and a reaction to the past rather than a rational need in the present. Close coordination with Personnel Committee when personnel matters are at hand is all that’s needed.

After almost three years our four-member Executive Team functions extremely well at managing the operation. There has been no need to specify duties/responsibilities for individual members. When our new minister came aboard, he easily transitioned into the Executive Team role, and was fully comfortable with policy governance.

Ralph Melaragno, Board President, Santa Rosa, CA - 2000


When we were designing the Executive Team, and developing policies at the same time, I e-mailed John Carver with the following question that concerned us: To what degree can the executive team wisely be expected to act as one voice? Actions within each team member's own area of accountability would seem rightfully to belong to that member rather than the team. Decisions that overlap areas, of course, should be of "one voice". But if the team members have competing concerns that appear mutually exclusive, would the board not need to hear this?

John responded, observing first that "the group executive is open to more ambiguity and is dependent more on personalities fitting well than is a clean delegation to one person." And he went on to my questions. Here's what he said:

"The executive team MUST act as one voice or it will not work. Now, that doesn't mean they all agree, nor does it mean the various elements of the team do not have their own areas of control to which the group voice never speaks. In other words, the group decides (just as a single CEO would) what will be delegated to its component parts. If minister or administrator has been delegated authority to act in a certain area (given that area and its boundaries by the group as a whole), then the minister or office administrator simply acts with the authority given. He, she, or they do not have to come back to get the full team's buy-in (else why would the team have delegated anything?) "So what will constitute "overlapping areas" is decided by the team, not by the individuals. But within a non-overlapping area, the team stays quiet and lets its members act. "As far as what the board needs to hear, I'd say nothing as long as [1] the team still functions and [2] the overall ends are being achieved and unacceptable means not happening. In the case of [1] the team functioning is not a matter of whether members have competing interests, but whether the team can come to a single decision. If it cannot, the board will know its group executive idea isn't working so well. Then the board must either change members of the team or give up the idea."

So, our Board went on to develop and adopt the following, under its Executive Limitations policies:

A. EXECUTIVE TEAMWORK: The Executive Team shall not fail to speak as one voice to all parties to whom the team is responsible. Accordingly, Executive Team members shall not: 1. Fail to include and consult with each other on all issues which materially affect each other's areas of accountability. 2. Fail to support the recommendation of the senior minister regarding matters of mutual accountability when the Executive Team does not reach consensus. 3. Fail to honor and support each other's views and positions in areas of the other's sole accountability.

Margaret Keip, interim minister, Santa Rosa, CA - March 18, 1999


We are in our first year of policy governance and we are currently content with a three-person Executive Team consisting of our two co-Senior Ministers and our Interim Assistant Minister for Membership and Administration. (We are currently looking for an Executive Director/Minister for the position starting in July when we hope our excellent interim will be called by his own congregation... but that is another story.)

We believe that our Executive Team needs to be professional staff -- the Board and members of the Congregation need to work on vision (ends), but we believe unleashing the professionals will move us faster with greater focus and clearer responsibility. The ET must agree to speak with one voice and to be collectively accountable. The ET must be able to select appropriate volunteers ("staff") in order to reach our ends. The implication of this is that the ET must be able to gently deselect (fire!) volunteers if needed to reach the ends.

And, yes, we are trying very hard to keep any Board members from being adopted as part of the Executive. We can help the ET in our other roles, such as finance, as volunteers; but, we are working to keep Board duties separate from execution.

Galen B. Workman, Moderator, First UU Society of San Francisco, 2000