Considering the work the board does, are there enough people to accomplish it all?
- Are there enough leaders around the table to allow for proper succession planning of key board member roles?
- Does the number of people around the table provide the right amount of geographicand functional representation?
- Is there enough diversity to ensure good decision-making?
- Do you have enough resources to properly support and manage the number of board members you currently have?
Some argue that a small board is more agile than a larger board because decisions can be made faster and more efficiently.
Others suggest that larger is better as it allows for depth of resources and a diversity of opinion when making decisions.
I think a better way to look at the board size is to look at who is around the board table, what your needs are, and not to focus on a number.
Properly trained board members, who know what their roles and responsibilities are will be effective, efficient and provide meaningful opinions in order to make good decisions. So size should not influence the board’s efficiency.
There is no one size fits all approach to board structure so you need to look at the work being done by the board and then factor in who does what and how the work gets done.
One of our client’s board shrank in size a few years ago when they went to a governance model where committees outside the board were tasked with doing the work of the association, and the committees reported to a member of the board.
Our client found this extremely effective—plus, committees provide a good source of future board leaders who know what the association is working on and towards.
Another client we work with increased the number of board members in order to allow for the work of the board to be accomplished and to provide them with the opportunity to develop future board leaders from within.
Each of our clients assessed what their needs were and adopted the board structure that allowed them to work towards their goals and mission.
For national boards, regional representation is important to ensure that the voice from across the country is around the table. What happens in atlantic Canada versus out west is different, and having a voice from each region creates an appropriate diversity of opinion ensuring that the decisions that are made reflect the interest of the entire country.
Resources are scarce in the association world and if your board is regional or national, the cost of board meetings vary.
We find that the most effective board meetings are those that are in person so national boards might also consider the size of their boards when setting their meeting schedule and ensure that their budget can accommodate the schedule. As a rule-of-thumb, the cost of each person attending an in-person meeting is about $1,000.
Another resource to consider when talking about board size is your staff. Larger boards require more staff time when organizing meetings and arranging schedules. This might seem to be a minor expense, but it is something to consider when looking at how effectively you use the resources you have at your disposal.
There is no universally correct answer regarding board size, but if you consider issues such as succession planning, diversity, distribution of work and association goals, it will help your organization to determine the appropriate board size for you.