Good Governance… By Consensus

Non-Profit boards come in all shapes and sizes, with different committees and models of governance. One of the newest Propellus Members is the Calgary Region Airshed Zone. Their Executive Director, Jill Bloor, couldn’t stop singing the praises of her incredible board, so we decided to sit down with her to see what was behind their success. 

CRAZ is a not for profit organization that monitors, analyzes, and provides information on air quality and develop strategies to manage air quality issues within their zone. CRAZ also has the largest zone, with 1.4 million people. Like the weather report, their website updates daily with an easy to understand air quality health index.

Bloor has spent most of her work-life in the non-profit sector where she has worked with her fair share of boards – she says that the CRAZ board is the smoothest operating board she has ever encountered. “I have dealt with bigger boards and I have dealt with smaller boards,” says Bloor. “It works because we deal with consensus and we don’t operate on majority rule or any of that.”

The CRAZ board is comprised of members from industries that have air emissions, all levels of government, and public (or NGO’s). It also does not run on a majority rule as many others do, it is run on consensus, if a board member cannot live with something, then it is not passed. “Everybody has to be able to live with the decision – that is the essence of consensus really. It’s a win-win-win is how we put it; all three sectors have to be able to live with whatever is being proposed,” Bloor explains.

Sitting on a board that runs on consensus could sound daunting, but all new board members are given a pretty extensive orientation on consensus board governance and know that if they cannot live with some thing they will have to give a reason. “It’s not as simple as just saying ‘against’ or ‘for,’” says Bloor. “There is a process that we go through to ensure that we can either get them to consensus or they have to come up with a reason why.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean that if a board member can’t live with something they have to answer why or come up with a solution right away, the issue is tabled until a later date. This does mean that running a board on consensus can draw out the process, but that doesn’t faze Bloor at all.

“Once you have consensus you have 100% buy in, you have 100% support. When 51% majority wins, the no’s go away and for the next 6 months and all they do is stir the pot,” says Bloor. “There is none of that in consensus, once consensus is reached that means that everybody is going to be able to live with this decision.”

While Bloor does admit that the consensus style can slow down the decision making process, as an Executive Director it gives her peace of mind to know that after a course has been chosen with consensus decision making, that course won’t be arbitrarily altered at the next board meeting.

“Your numbers aren’t as influential,” explains Bloor. “You don’t get groups of people banding to vote down something, or present something. Everybody has to be able to live with the decision.”

Bloor believes that the consensus model is one of the big reasons that her board functions so well, but says that it is not the only reason.

The CRAZ board is big on open communication and being transparent, they are forward thinking, and above all – passionate.

“The people on my board are very passionate. They adopted guiding principles, and a vision, mission that they believed in,” says Bloor. “It’s their desire for the organization to succeed in their mission: ensuring that we have good air quality in regards to human health and the environment.”

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