What Does Your Board’s Dominant Coalition Look Like?
You are about to enter the nonprofit boardroom. Picture a nonprofit board that meets regularly and has the required number of members that meet bylaw’s quorum.
Also picture members of the board, following a regularly scheduled meeting, looking sideways at each other and scratching their heads muttering: “Was it necessary that I be in attendance at that meeting?”
In this column, I am going to discuss the topic of inclusion — not singularly with a race or gender lens, but from an even broader lens focused on answering the question: Am I really an equal member at my board table?
In answering this question, I’m thinking that your autonomic answer might likely be: “Well, my board IS the board.” But alas, this is not always true and (dare I say it) more frequent than you might think. To cut to the quick, smarter people than I dating as far back as 1962 (Richard M. Cyert and James G. March) and as recent as 2019 (Fredrik O. Andersson and David O. Renz) have offered a framework they refer to as the “dominant coalition.”
The framework of dominant coalition describes who, within an organization, effectively has the “real” power and, as such, governs (e.g. leads and drives direction and decisions). The understanding of “who” is the dominant coalition within an organization provides the wherewithal of all members to assess the level of satisfaction with their own role and consider options for a change.
I believe that every board member truly wants to be part of the dominant coalition and that the most inclusive board is one in which all the members are the dominant coalition.
What to do next? Engage your board in a conversation about inclusiveness — both what it is and why it matters. You may need to start with the governance committee or if one does not exist (which it should), the executive committee. Focus the conversation on what is not so great about the dominant coalition in charge. Next, map out a process for transferring power to every member. Yes, you can! On the other hand, if you are satisfied being left out of the dominant coalition governing your board, maybe you need a different board where your voice can be more equal.