Imagine that you’re the CEO of a large public corporation, and one day you learn that your whole board has been “fired” and replaced by all new board members. By any standard, you’d consider this a pretty extraordinary challenge, if not a downright crisis. Well, this is what confronted Dick Ruddell, President/Executive Director of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, known popularly as ‘The T,” early in 2013. A pretty board-savvy CEO, Dick recognized that a business-as-usual response wouldn’t suffice; extraordinary circumstances called for an extraordinary response.
So shortly after the nine new members of the T Board of Directors elected their officers, Dick huddled with his new Board Chair, Scott Mahaffey, a prominent Fort Worth businessman, to discuss how to turn the brand-new Board into a reasonably cohesive governing team in fairly short order. The urgency had a lot to do with a large commuter rail project in the planning stages, confronting the new Board with a stream of critical, high-stakes decisions in the near future. Scott and Dick had both learned from experience that if the new T Board members were to function effectively as a cohesive governing team, they’d need to feel strong ownership of their governing role and detailed governing processes. They were also keenly aware that just putting the new Board members through some kind of formal governance training program – teaching and preaching about governance – wouldn’t get the team building job done; ownership, they well knew, would come from being actively engaged in helping to shape their governing work.
So Scott and Dick agreed to hold an intensive, daylong “High-Impact Governing Work Session,” involving all nine new Board members and Dick’s senior executives, along with invited representatives of key stakeholder organizations in Greater Fort Worth. I was privileged to be retained to plan and facilitate the daylong session. Recognizing that an outside consultant couldn’t bring off a successful work session alone, and that turning Board members into true owners had to begin well before the April 12 session, Scott established and chaired an ad hoc committee consisting of four other Board members to oversee design of the High-Impact Governing Work Session. This group played a hands-on role with me in developing the blow-by-blow agenda of the April 12 event, and took public accountability for the session by attaching their names to the memorandum describing the session, which was sent to all participants a week in advance. The five Board members also agreed to serve as leaders of the five breakout groups that would be employed to brainstorm content during the day together.
The April 12 High-Impact Governing Work Session was highly productive and satisfying, fostering both understanding and ownership, in large measure the result of active participation in the five Board member-led breakout groups. And adding real luster to our day together, the President & CEO of the American Public Transportation Association, Michael Melaniphy, not only flew into Fort Worth to talk about national trends in the public transportation field over lunch on the 12th, he actively participated in the session much of the day.
As I write this, there is a lot of follow-up yet to be done, but there’s no question the April 12 High-Impact Governing Work Session has laid a firm foundation for the kind of high-impact governing the T requires to thrive and grow in the years ahead.