Organizational lifecycle in new non-profit board start-ups
Saxton, Cenina Brietta
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This study explored how the board of directors of a start-up chapter of a professional association utilized experiential learning to build their capacity as leaders while focusing on competing values that identify enablers of success. The research questions for this study were: (1) How do board members of professional associations build their capacity through experiential learning? (2) How do competing values influence the enablers of success for a new volunteer organization? (3) How do volunteer organizations utilize action research to develop leaders? The researcher collaborated with the board of directors, advisors, and council members of a local chapter of a national professional association to engage in the study. The researcher captured data through interviews, observations, and meeting notes used during the course of the study. The intervention included critical incident interviews, which were conducted by the researcher. The action research team took measures to understand what activities led to beneficial learning for the board members. By understanding activities that had the most influence on learning, board members were able to change their behaviors. This allowed the board to focus on tasks enabling the chapter to be effective in day-to-day operations as well establish long-term stability. Literature included in the study focused on experiential learning, Competing Values Framework, start-up organizations, and action research. Analysis of the findings generated the following conclusions: (1) Board members of the chapter gained more role clarity through experiential learning rather than standardized processes. (2) Through commitment and communication, interpersonal trust increased, allowing the board members to collaborate and work effectively as a cohesive unit. (3) New chapters experience greater success when focusing on “enablers” that align with their respective stage in the organizational lifecycle. This study impacts theory by bridging the gap in how research addresses the learning needs of board members in non-profit, startup organizations. The study explores how non-profit boards can utilize the tenets of experiential learning and the Competing Values Framework to build competent leaders while understanding which values are most critical to the success of the organization. The study shows the paradoxical impact of understanding individual’s role verses task. Moreover, the study provides implications for practice as it suggests that as individuals change their behaviors as they not only build their capacity as leaders but also learn from experiences. Through reflection and feedback, individuals equip the organization to re-think how to select the right leaders and how to further develop them to carry out the mission and vision of the organization. The study suggests the following implications should be considered: (1) Individuals must understand their role when joining a board of directors. (2) Professional associations must attend to needs based on their respective stage in the organizational lifecycle. (3) Action research allows individuals to reflect and provide feedback that can be used to modify both individual and group behaviors.