Invariably, all board directors will take their board seats having various levels of board and governance education. Regardless of how much or how little education a board director has, everyone can improve their knowledge and expertise on board governance. The better educated the board is, the better they will do their jobs individually and collectively. A board development committee, which is usually a standing committee, is sometimes called a governance committee.

The benefit of having a board development committee as a standing committee is that it has the time to break down the tasks of identifying the types of education each board member needs, make sure that board members follow up on their training, and continually strive to develop the board to its fullest potential.

Purpose of the Board Development Committee

Committees and work groups provide an appropriate structure for accomplishing specific tasks such as board development. Not having to address routine matters and procedures allows committee members to get to work on issues quickly.

A board development committee also provides a forum to utilize the special talents of various board members. For example, a board member who has a solid foundation in governance and has served many years on boards makes a prime candidate for chair of the board development committee.

Nearly all boards will have quite a range of board education and experience around the board table. Some board directors will need more of a beginner level of board education. Others may already have a firm foundation in governance and may need specialized development in strategic planning, succession planning, facilitating, leadership, risk management, information technology or some other area of expertise.

Tensions, crises, growing pains and economic developments are just a few things that can signal a need for increased board development. Board turnover can create a gap in skills and board development can help to keep educational continuity on the board.

Boards benefit greatly from board education and development. In addition to gaining information and expertise, continued education helps boards become more devoted and invested in their duties.

Board development committees are accountable to the board for developing a well-rounded, competent board. By delegating the task to a committee, the board becomes more flexible, and thus, able to adapt more quickly to changes in the environment.

Areas of Board Development

The areas of board development are plentiful. Trainings may be based on general governance principles or may coincide with the organization’s current challenges.

One way that board development committees can identify areas in which board members need training and education is by conducting regular surveys. A Diligent board portal with fully integrated director and officer self-assessment software makes this task easy. The high level of security on the platform makes the surveys highly confidential as well. The board portal helps boards keep track of each board director’s training efforts and offers a secure place to record the details of development and training opportunities.

Diligent’s director and officer self-assessment program records evaluations and feedback from previous trainings that board directors reported as being valuable and that can be used for future directors. Here are some other helpful areas for board training and development to consider:

  • Board evaluation
  • Teamwork
  • Conflict management
  • Risk management
  • Organizational ethics
  • Creating a corporate culture
  • Board diversity
  • Strategic planning
  • Effective communication and social media
  • Information technology
  • Cybersecurity
  • Facilitation skills
  • Board leadership
  • General governance topics

Use this list as a starting point and keep adding to it.

What a Board Development Committee Does 

Much work goes into identifying, recruiting and nominating new board directors. That’s just the beginning of the work that boards need to do to ensure that all board directors arrive at their first board meeting fully prepared and ready to make meaningful contributions.

Board development committees can get their new board directors off to a great start by providing them with a comprehensive board orientation. After that, continued opportunities for education will strengthen the capacity and effectiveness of the board, as well as enhance the potential for board retention.

Succession planning is also a notable task of a board development committee. Board director positions and senior leadership positions may become vacant as terms expire, due to an executive firing, or due to an unexpected retirement or resignation. A board development committee continually stays in the loop of industry talent and recruits the best talent as potential recruits to fill vacancies. This is a sure way to attract and retain top talent.

What a Board Development Committee Needs to Be Effective

Several different components join together to form an effective board development committee, including the board charter, a board chair and committee members.

The board development charter states the committee’s purpose and whether it’s a standing or ad hoc committee. The charter also spells out the committee’s authority and the limitations on its authority.

A capable, experienced board director is the most prudent choice for a committee chair. The individual who holds this position must be able to effectively facilitate a group that brings a variety of opinions to the table. A quality board chair is adept at the decision-making process and can lead the group through to a consensus and appropriate decision-making.

Finally, a board development committee needs dedicated members who are committed to good attendance and are willing to spend the necessary time performing research inside and outside the committee meeting time.

Committee members need to be willing to ask probing questions, to seek alternative courses of action and to be able to understand how to evaluate the adequacy, relevance and completeness of data. Committee members should be chosen for their ability to offer opinions, even when they’re contrary to the opinions of others, and be willing to delay making decisions until they have all the research and input that’s available to them.

Every community offers some semblance of educational and training opportunities. For very specialized topics, make use of technology and look for educational opportunities such as online courses, webinars and podcasts. Don’t overlook opportunities for offsite training, such as retreats, conferences, workshops and special guest speaker presentations.

The efforts of a hard-working board development committee won’t go unnoticed. In fact, board development committees often set average-performing boards apart from high-performing boards.