Our Community's thinker-in-residence, Chris Borthwick, answers a reader's question about underperforming board members.
A. The short answer is that as a board member, Mr or Ms Problem is an elected official with a perfect right to be there. If no actual crime (bullying, sexual harassment, embezzlement) is being committed, it's bloody difficult to remove them between elections, however disliked they get. You can't fire your local MP between elections, similarly. Because it's bloody difficult, you only go to the formal removal procedures when absolutely everything else has failed.
The long answer is dependent on several other questions:
1) How long is it to the next election?
Getting someone off the board formally is going to take months, and if you've only got months to go then it's best to wait and work on the next election.
2) Have you tried soft soap?
If you can get them to lift their game, you'll have less of a problem. Can you take them aside and talk to them about it? (If you're too polite or too nervous to take them aside, you're not going to like the bad feeling that's going to come when you try to get them bounced). If that's too confrontational, you might consider giving everybody on the board a catch-up course, telling all the others that only Mr or Ms Problem really needs it (that's unlikely to be true, of course).
The non-contributor may be drifting away from the organisation anyway and just need a small push. Try telling them you can use their talents better on the ad hoc committees, or as a freelance fundraiser, or whatever - that their considerable talents just aren't being extended enough in the low-level day-to-day rubbish the board has to deal with.
3) Have you tried asking them to leave?Have you tried asking them to leave?
If they're involved but unhelpful, think twice: if they're causing problems now, things will probably become even worse if they know everybody else is against him anyhow.
4) Would tighter chairing help?
Some people don't mean to cause problems. They just do. If the trouble-maker has a tendency to ramble on endlessly, for example, a fixed time in the agenda for each item can help.
In the end, if you have to have them removed, then it's back to the constitution to see what powers you have. In Victoria, for example, the model rules say that a special resolution is required to removed a committee member from office. A special resolution is passed if at least 75 per cent of members voting at a general meeting vote in favour. Note that this means a general meeting, of all members, not a committee meeting. It can be a special general meeting (and there are quite a lot of rules governing that). You'll have to wash this particular lot of dirty linen in public. And you should be very, very careful what you say - or write down - in these circumstances. The laws of slander, libel and defamation exist for just this purpose.
Got a question for our thinker-in-residence? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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