The Seven Sins of Board Dysfunction

Published November 11, 2008

Practicing a Trade Without a License

This describes the board director who has done no preparation to become better informed about his/her role as a director. The most common manifestations are the director who wears so many 'hats' that he has lost sight of his 'duty of loyalty'. This sin is related to John Carver's lament that many directors 'park their brains at the door'. The successful organization understands the role of the director and the board.

Squeaky Wheel

This occurs when an individual or a small group is disaffected or negative and the organization consumes enormous amounts of time attempting to deal with their problems (you have a problem when 2% of your members cause 98% of your headaches!). The successful organization understands that you can appeal to the greater collective, expel a member, terminate an employee or retire a volunteer.

Culture of Secrecy

This occurs when there is an inside group or ‘clique’ that governs from a sense of entitlement, using secrecy, control, fear and intimidation to keep others, and other ideas, outside the inner circle. It also applied to the secrecy 'crutch' enabled by new privacy laws. Secrecy and confidentiality are not the same thing. The successful organization understands that there is no substitute for truth, disclosure and transparency.

Sport’s own Peter Principle

This is the well-documented phenomenon in management where people get promoted beyond their level of competence. In sport we see it as the volunteer who is a good club leader getting elected to be a provincial president (although they might not have the skill set or the desire to lead at that level) and from there getting elected to a national board. This phenomenon also occurs at the provincial and club level. The successful organization matches the legitimate demands of the position to the motivation, competency and desires of the volunteer.

You Get What You Pay For

Although sport is driven by volunteers, sometimes it pays to get a professional to do the job. Sport organizations need to become more business-like and professional in their operations. The successful organization uses a cost-benefit approach to know when to go outside for help.

Head in the Sand Mentality

This is the natural human tendency to hope that a problem will go away. Yet the problems we experience in sport do not mellow with age, instead they fester and escalate. A successful organization must be prepared to tackle these problems head-on and in a timely way.

The Burden of Tradition

The fact that we have done something a certain way for a long time is often an excuse for not looking at new ways to do things. Many sports bear the burden of many traditions, which stifles creativity and the efforts to change. The successful organization can rise above this burden and reconcile tradition and innovation.

Originally published: Centre for Sport and Law Website, 2008, Volume 4(2)

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