The Real Taboo Is Authority
A week or so ago, my colleague Harris Sokoloff and I facilitated a board retreat for a charter school. The school has been phenomenally successful; you can see this as you walk the halls and marvel at the terrific energy in the building. You know this because the achievement scores of the students are through the roof—and the cool thing is, the school makes a point of succeeding with students from lower-income families as well as middle-class families. It is a magical place.
So considering the fantastic growth and success of this charter school, why were we there?
Our charter school is a high-growth company, with a founder who has a passionate vision about the place and a very collaborative style of decision-making. With success and growth come struggle, especially when it comes to defining the role of the founder CEO and the role of the board. Governance issues are especially complex in not-for-profit organizations—good boards are composed of well-intentioned volunteers with limited time and broad skills; the staff is putting in endless hours, and they have most of the expertise in their specialty area.
We talked that day about the collaborative “dance” between a board and a CEO, and we used the RACI language to do so. When and how does consultation occur? What work does the board have an “R” for doing? In theory, of course, the board of directors has authority, or “A” for a single, fate-making decision—to evaluate the performance of the CEO and to hire and fire into that position. But a good, involved board also takes authority for policy, for fiscal accountability and for long-range strategic plans. This is especially true in a charter school, which is a quasi-public institution rather than a private independent school.
In short, it’s complicated.
One of our favorite comments after the retreat was over was “Some people say race/class are taboo, but I think the real taboos are about authority. This RACI process takes that taboo off the table.”
One powerful benefit of RACI is that it gives you a neutral language to talk about issues of power and authority without offending anybody. Don’t try to wade into a complex governance arena without it.
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