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Committees & Boards: Why the Most Obvious Questions Don't Get Asked

Newbies and their first few committee/board meetings

Ever been on a committee or board and worried what people might think if you asked a question or two? You are not alone. Indeed, this is very common especially for newbies attending at their first few meetings.

As a new board member, you may well end up wondering why some of the most obvious questions don't get asked during board meetings. After all, these are the people who are responsible for overseeing the organization's finances, operations, and strategic direction. Shouldn't they be asking all the right questions?

Actually, there are a few reasons why questions don't always get asked on boards. A couple of reasons spring to mind:

  1. Fear of looking stupid
    One reason is that people may be afraid of looking stupid. They may worry that if they ask a question that seems obvious, their colleagues will think they don't know what they're doing. This is especially common for new board members who are still learning the ropes.

  2. Not wanting to rock the boat
    Another reason is that people may not want to rock the boat. They may worry that if they ask a question that makes the Chair or others uncomfortable, they will be seen as troublemakers.

Questions - for the good of the board

“Believe it or not, you are doing the board a service when asking questions.”

Having done your homework, by reading all the board/committee papers, I’m sure a few questions will come to mind, even if they are simply points of clarification. Asking a question to clarify the matter in hand, improves your understanding, giving you deeper insights into the way the board/committee operates.

It’s expected of you. Remember why you are attending the meeting - it’s to make informed decisions. You are surrounded by subject matter experts. So, take a deep breath and ask. In my experience, people are quite happy to answer. Besides, it’s expected of you. You are a newbie. It stands to reason you don’t know everything - it’s only right and proper that you ask a question of two.

Asking questions shows your interest and you could be the first person to ask a particular question that others wondered about but hadn’t got around to asking. So ask away.

Informed decisions. By asking the obvious, you are helping to ensure that the board is making informed decisions that are in the best interests of the organisation. So pluck up your courage and ask away. (But don’t get carried way in you first board/committee meeting!)

As an aside when you turn up early before the meeting, it’s a great time to ask a question or two on a problem that’s been niggling you, as this this more of a social situation.

Sharing your expertise. You won’t always be regarded as newbie. You were elected on the committee/board because you have expertise. So whatever your expertise is, start asking good questions.

Furthermore, once you have been on the committee for a while, you will find it easier to ask questions about “the way we do business around here”. E.g. I know we do it this way, but why don’t we try… Or that didn’t work, but what do we learn from the experience? And so on. I’m sure you till be able to come up with a few questions to suit the occasion.

Joined a committee? If you’re thinking about or have just joined a club or society’s committee/board discover my book Getting to grips with not-for-profit governance. Use it to guide you on your journey as an effective committee or board member - from your first meeting onwards.