Learning patterns/Board handbook − a shared vision of the board role in an evolving organisation

A learning pattern forTeamwork
Board handbook − a shared vision of the board role in an evolving organisation
problemHow to ensure that the role of governance – mainly that of the board of trustees – is clear to everyone or who is or wants to be involved, and to optimise efficency
solutionWrite a board handbook that exposes a shared vision of governance and provides clear answers to “Who decides what?” and “Who does what?”
created on15 December, 2014

What problem does this solve?


The Wikimedia chapters (and other movement affiliate organisations) go through different stages of development. The governance structure can evolve, which means the role of those involved may also evolve. Even aware of this transition, it can be very difficult for people to step back and adapt as you live through this transition. And it's very important that new and prospective people involved have a correct view of what must be governance, and what their role will be. Otherwise the governance will be ineffective, with a board that does not fulfill its duties correctly and hampers the organisation improvement. How to help and ensure that the governance's role – mainly the board of trustees – is clear to everyone involved or who wants to be involved ?

What is the solution?


A document which exposes what it means to be on the board − expectations, posture, dos & don'ts − like a shareholders' agreement. It ensures that every current member of the board has the same vision of the governance. It's also necessary that new or prospective members of the board read and assimilate this vision. The aim is to improve the governance by defining explicitly with all stakeholders "who decides what?" and "who does what?". Thus the handbook does not have to describe the current (and maybe inadapted) functioning but it has to describe the ideal functioning. That way, each stakeholder knows what they have to do, what is expected of them and what they can expect from others.

General considerations

  • The contents must be really adapted to your governance structure to be effectively implemented : You can't expect the same role for a three-member board without employees as for a ten-member board with 10 employees and a manager. To each governance structure its ad-hoc content.
  • If the governance structure evolves (re-organization, delegation of authority, hiring), there is a good chance that everyone's role is changing, so the Handbook contents has to evolve too.
  • Even on comparable structures, each has strengths and weaknesses. The goal is to identify them to tailor the contents of the Handbook.
  • Since the handbook is essentially a shared vision, all stakeholders should be involved in its writing − all board members of course, but the input of staff, active members and former board members is extremely valuable.

When to use


Wikimédia France wrote its Board Handbook at the occasion of the general assembly a year after hiring its executive director; this was synonymous with big changes in the governance structure, and the need for guidelines on what the board should focus on, and what it should be doing.

See also