Building Trust: Strengthening the Bond Between Association Boards and Staff
DeLaine Bender CAE
As association management professionals, we at AMR Management Services know associations rely on an effective relationship between the Board of Directors and staff to fulfill their missions—and trust is the cornerstone of this partnership. In this blog post, we will explore the importance of trust, the common challenges in building it, and strategies to foster a strong, trusting relationship between association boards and staff.
The Significance of Trust
Trust is the foundation upon which successful partnerships between an association and association management company (AMC) are built. It starts with the belief that association leaders and staff are committed to acting in the best interest of the organization and its members. In other words, the assumption of positive intent.
Trust enables clear communication, effective decision-making, and collaboration within a Board, and with the staff team. Without trust, even the most well-intentioned leaders and staff teams may find it challenging to work together harmoniously and make any progress toward the association’s mission.
Challenges in Building Trust
Common challenges that must be overcome to build trust in an association include:
- Vaguely Defined Roles and Responsibilities: We all know the board and staff have distinct roles, job responsibilities, and levels of authority; however, in an association there is sometimes a real or perceived overlap. This is particularly true in smaller associations, where volunteers may be quite hands-on. Misunderstandings and conflict may ensue when roles are not clearly defined and known to all.
- Lack of Communication: Inadequate communication or poor information flow can result in a lack of understanding. Keeping busy volunteer leaders in the loop on a fast-moving initiative can be a challenge, but is critical. A board member asking, “Where are we on this project?” is a message to staff that more communication is needed.
- Poor Accountability: A lack of accountability at the board or staff level can lead to mistrust and animosity. Sometimes, differing expectations create the perception of poor accountability. People thrive in environments where they have clarity on what is expected of them; without that clarity, no one feels comfortable that they are successfully meeting the expectation.
- Past Experiences: Historical issues, conflicts, or misunderstandings can leave lasting scars that hinder the development of trust. The phrase “once burned, twice shy” is applicable in a business relationship and can take time to overcome.
Strategies to Foster Trust
With more than 25 years working with associations of all types, sizes and structures, AMR Management Services has developed several strategies we utilize to foster trust with our association partners. Here are four basic tenets:
1 | Transparency and Open Communication
The most important (and basic) step toward building and sustaining trust within an association is having candid dialogue and clear lines of communication, as well as a culture of resolving issues through dialogue rather than avoidance. AMR strives to be very open and genuine with our clients, creating frequent opportunities for check-ins, reports, and one-on-one conversations. In addition, we work with our association boards and staff to ensure everyone feels comfortable asking questions and providing feedback.
2 | Well-defined Roles and Responsibilities
It seems too simple, but a large part of clarifying who-does-what in an association can be accomplished through a responsibilities matrix and easily understood job descriptions for board members and staff, shared during an annual orientation. For each client, AMR creates an accountability chart, which reflects not just the reporting structure, but also the lines of accountability. Another important element: ensuring that organizational policies and board decisions are well-documented and shared with staff members, so they understand the organization’s direction.
3 | Clear Expectations and Regular Assessment
Just as employees benefit from consistent and specific feedback from their managers, association leaders and staff need to be consistently aware of how they and the organization are doing as compared with expectations. It is very hard to hold a team accountable for expectations that are not shared by all.
Jointly set strategic goals to foster a sense of unity and purpose among the board and staff. Frequent reviews of the association’s strategic priorities and reporting on progress as compared with milestones and metrics will help ensure a shared understanding of what success looks like. In addition to our regular check-ins and assessments of our staff’s performance, AMR recommends that our clients implement a feedback mechanism to assess members’ satisfaction with the performance of the organization and the board. This encourages open and constructive feedback to improve collaboration and address concerns.
4 | Celebrate Successes Together
To function as a unified team, the board and staff must understand everyone’s contributions are important and valued. We encourage our association clients to acknowledge and celebrate achievements as a team, regardless of whether they are the result of board or staff efforts (and usually, isn’t it both?). Acknowledgement within the leadership team is appreciated, but recognizing contributions in a way that is visible to members creates the ultimate impact.
Building trust between an association’s board and staff is an ongoing process that requires dedication, open communication, and a shared commitment to the organization’s success. When this bond is strong, associations can navigate challenges more effectively, make informed decisions, and provide better service to their members.
About AMR Management Services If your professional society or trade association could benefit from skilled professional management support, AMR Management Services is here to help. We are an accredited, full-service association management firm supporting national and international associations clients of all sizes. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you take your association to the next level
Degrees and Credentials:
Certified Association Executive (CAE), Bachelor of Arts in Journalism & Mass Communication, University of Oklahoma
Association Management Professional Since:
What inspires you about your work?
In my career, I have been blessed to work with some amazing, inspiring association leaders, who have become mentors and friends. I also enjoy the challenging, ever-changing environment of associations, and the sense of fulfillment in having made a difference in a profession or on an issue.
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