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Leveraging Board Effectiveness: Increasing Committee Communication

Communication among the various board committees at a hospital or health system can be tricky. Too often, committees find themselves working in their own silos rather than coordinating together for the betterment of the organization. While there are no hard-and-fast rules around board committee communication, it is clear that having a culture of open communication and teamwork is critical to governance success.

Healthcare boards should take time to consider if committee communication is effective or if this is something that needs to be addressed. Some ideas for improving committee communication include:

  • Have related committees come together. For example, it may be valuable for the finance and quality committee to hold a joint meeting annually. This meeting would help members of the committees recognize the link between quality (under value-based purchasing/alternative payment models) and financial performance. These two committees may fail to see this important connection, so creating a meeting focused on “value”—including the relative cost position of key components of the enterprise—can be beneficial.
  • Ensure overlap between the executive committee and committee chairs. Use the executive committee as a vehicle to ensure coordination of activities via the chairs. This doesn’t take much time and can help with committee coordination.
  • Establish clear roles and work plans. Require that each committee review its charter annually (in more than a pro forma manner) and recommend any changes, and that they develop and utilize a committee work plan. This should be a requirement and both need to be approved by the board. Having these clearly defined goals and expectations will ensure that needed committee work is being accomplished and creates understanding around the roles and responsibilities of each committee.1
  • Align committee work with organizational goals. Create an annual board calendar around the organization’s goals, and do a “deep dive” on one goal/focus area each board meeting. Committees should align fairly well with these areas of focus. This will give the board opportunities for generative discussion about the work of key committees.

If the board feels like committee communication is an issue, the first step could be for the board chair to hold a meeting with all of the committee chairs. This will give everyone the opportunity to weigh in and work together to come up with some solutions. A solution generated by the group will have much more buy-in from everyone, which will lead to a better end result. If certain people are reluctant, the board chair could then schedule some one-on-one time with them to dig deeper into this challenge.

Another option might be to have a consultant come in and interview the committee leaders, or even all of the committee members, if needed. After gathering information, the consultant could facilitate a meeting with the committee chairs to get any problems out in the open, address why they exist, and then create an action plan to move forward.

Final Word

Efficient, effective boards recognize that the real work of governance is accomplished through the committee structure and the outcomes of their work efforts. Committees have the ability to leverage the talents and resources of directors to a greater degree in these subject-focused teams with the potential of creating multiple returns for the overall board group. An effective board chair will proactively coordinate the work efforts and outcomes of the committees by providing clear performance expectations, specific guidelines, and improved communication processes that integrate and align the work efforts across these teams.

The Governance Institute thanks Marian C. Jennings, President, M. Jennings Consulting, Inc., and Guy M. Masters, Principal, Premier, Inc., for contributing this article. Both Marian and Guy are also Governance Institute advisors. They can be reached at mjennings@mjenningsconsulting.com or (610) 355-0610 and Guy_Masters@PremierInc.com or (818) 416-2166.

Governance Notes – June 2016
Marian C. Jennings, President – M. Jennings Consulting, Inc.
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1 For more information on committee charters and work plans, see Board Committees, Second Edition, Elements of Governance, The Governance Institute, 2016.