While there are decision-making groups that have functioned for years by focusing on similarities and shared values, diversity and dissent can actually be a strong catalyst for growth and change. Different ideas and opinions, as well as various perspectives can be a rich and fertile way to move a complacent organization toward the future. Of course, there does need to be respect for the differences and care must be taken to make sure that everyone is heard and different ideas and opinions are appreciated.
For some reason, many of us have been trained to assume that a productive meeting is one where everyone agrees. This may make things run smoother and cause the meeting to get out on time, but it is not necessarily a healthy way to run a nonprofit organization. In order to remain vital and relevant, the board of directors needs to entertain different ideas, as well as embrace enough diversity to keep things from going stale. Diversity does more than make a board of directors politically correct, it actually infuses a decision-making body with life and energy.
A strong board leader can facilitate discussion and encourage debate and various opinions. Instead of focusing on quickly getting to a consensus or agreement, allowing and inviting different opinions helps the board members to see all possible angles of a situation. This is healthy and invigorating for an organization or agency. A “rubber stamp” board simply approves suggestions and decisions that are brought before them and this may SEEM simple and functional, but it does not allow for good oversight of the operations.
Establish guidelines or policy for how disagreements will be handled, focusing on respect and appreciation of all. This means that a board of directors may need to challenge societal and embedded things like privilege, power, sexism, racism, etc. in order to make sure that everyone on the board of directors is actually respected and heard. Allowing and encouraging diversity and creating a healthy place for working through dissent can be some of the most productive and progressive work a board of directors can do.