Board Governance: Too Many Cooks At Red Cross

With the resignation of Marsha Evans, the Board of Governors of the American Red Cross must once again search for someone to continue the much needed modernization of the giant charity. Perhaps the Board should change how they govern themselves before asking yet one more leader to take on that job for them.

While most of us link the Red Cross with disaster relief of the Katrina variety, the charity is in fact a highly complex, large organization. In 2004, Red Cross spent more than $3 billion on services including disaster relief and recovery, blood and biomedical, services for military members and families, health and safety, volunteers, young people and nursing.

This size and complexity would rank Red Cross in the Fortune 1000 — a set of companies whose Boards of Directors, by the way, average 11 members.

In our work on teams, Jon Katzenbach and I repeatedly found the the effectiveness of small groups begins to deteriorate badly at about 10 to 12. There is no iron clad rule dictating Boards be ‘small groups’. Still, if the 1000 largest companies in the world average 11, the small numbers probably amount to what the gurus like to call a ‘best practice’.

All of which would be worth pondering by the 49 people listed as members of the American Red Cross Board of Governors.

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