Mark Holmgren Consulting e-newsletter

Email not displaying correctly? View it in your browser

October - November 2012

Mark Holmgren

There is a lot of talk about how boards need to become generative boards. In reality, what this means is a board that makes time to have conversations about what is most important to the organization and the board's governance of it.

Typically generative conversations focus on those elements of organizational life that relate to the acheivement of mission, outcomes, values and organizational priorities. I often call these elements an organization's Strategic Touchstone or more generically its foundational statements.

Generative conversations are in fact the engagement of one another in dialog about what is important to a group or organization. It is about individuals working together to create common understanding and an aligned voice about how to proceed with what has been learned together.

Generative conversations require space and time to take place as well as an environment of trust. To be effective such conversations call on individuals to refrain from our natural tendency to quickly offer opposing or resistant positions and in some or many cases suspend their own certainty in order to truly understand the other perspective.

A generative board makes time and space for such conversations, but as well nurtures among its members the ability to have a generative style of communicating as a fundamental element of board dynamics.

A person who commits to a generative style makes effort to learn how to interact with issues and people through ensuring the right questions are being posed before jumping to the answer stage of things.

A Board that commits to a generative style ensures that there is ongoing learning and orientation (to new members) about generative conversations.

To assist you or your Board in its quest to learn more about how to have generative conversations and to work together in a generative style, I offer some guidelines.

  • Work together to create and sustain trust. Trust is built and nurtured by giving others the benefit of the doubt, by assuming others are doing their best to understand and engage in honest, authentic ways. It also means each individual is transparent about their interests, opinions, and agendas.

  • Agree on the purpose or goal of the conversation. Is it to understand collectively, explore options, challenge assumptions, lead to a decision?
  • Create a safe environment for diverse perspectives. It is given that people don’t always agree on things. The purpose of generative conversations includes understanding other points of view, even those diametrically opposed to your own. Often authentic dialog and analysis of opposing perspectives leads to a new and better one.
  • Exemplify what you want from others. The golden rule actually does work.
  • When there are barriers to conversation try to fix yourself first before trying to solve others. More often than not barriers to effective dialog are not sourced in just one person.
  • Don’t just let conversations end without asking yourselves “what’s next?” Is more conversation needed? Do we need to make some kind of decision?
  • Generative conversations are often about change. They are about how to figure out what should be done, how something can improve, what new strategy or practice should be designed or implemented. In other words generative conversations often challenge the status quo. Don’t just be okay with that. Welcome it when it happens.

Mark Holmgren provides facilitation and consulting services to help Boards become more effective in their governance and their relationships with executive staff. For more info, call Mark at 780.299.0780 or email to  

Visit Mark's Blog

Follow Mark on Twitter

Mark has so many remarkable talents. His warmth, genuineness, humour and curiosity are what stands out for me. These qualities are very apparent in his work with organizations and facilitating workshops.

Mark has a deep understanding, based on years of experience, of social change, community development, management practices and community leadership.

He is extremely innovative, creating learning experiences for organizations and community leaders so they can respond more effectively to challenges facing their constituents.

-Brent MacKinnon, Social Media Tools

Based in Edmonton, Alberta Mark Holmgren is the CEO of Bissell Centre.His consulting practice is still active but is now focused on select work such as strategic retreats, governance consulting, and strategic communications. Mark works with a smaller client load these days, given his commitment to Bissell Centre, but feel free to inquire if you have work you believe he can help you with.

You can reach Mark at 780.299.0780 or at

Visit Mark's website and blog.



Mark Holmgren custom designs think and action sessions, strategy retreats that groups implement.



Consent Agendas

Consent agendas can help a board act quickly on routine matters, in order to free up time for generative conversations.

A section in a meeting agenda containing routine items that can be grouped together as one item and passed as one.
List of items that are voted on in a block instead of being voted on individually. This includes minutes of work sessions and [board] meetings, and any item believed by the [Chair and CEO] to be routine and not controversial in nature.

Best Practice
"A consent agenda can only work if the reports, and other matters for the meeting agenda are known in advance and distributed with agenda package in sufficient time to be read by all members prior to the meeting. A typical procedure is as follows:

  • When preparing the meeting agenda, the president or chairperson determines whether an item belongs on the consent agenda.
  • The president prepares a numbered list of the consent items as part of, or as an attachment to the meeting agenda.
  • The list and supporting documents are included in the board’s agenda package in sufficient time to be read by all members prior to the meeting.
  • At the beginning of the meeting, the chair asks members what items they wish to be removed from the consent agenda and discussed individually.
  • If any member requests that an item be removed from the consent agenda, it must be removed. Members may request that an item be removed for any reason.
  • When there are no more items to be removed, the chair or secretary [or equivalent] reads out the numbers of the remaining consent items. Then the chair states: “If there is no objection, these items will be adopted.” After pausing for any objections, the chair states “As there are no objections, these items are adopted.” It is not necessary to ask for a show of hands.
  • When preparing the minutes, the Secretary includes the full text of the resolutions, reports or recommendations that were adopted as part of the consent agenda."

    retrieved from: on October 21, 2012


Being a generative board does not mean that the board does not pay attention to its fiduciary and strategic responsibilities. Boards still have to address risk, ensure legal and regulatory requirements are being met, and provide governace over HR and finanicial matters.

However, boards committed to dialogue and generative governance, make time and space for doing just that.

By using consent agendas (as per above), deploying email or wiki-based decision making protocols for routine matters, and ensuring their focus is on mission, outcomes, and values, generative conversations become more than a tool; they become a way of governing.


Recent or current clients include: Aspen (Calgary), 1000 Voices Collaboration (Calgary), Alberta Rural Development Network, HeadStart,  Alberta Association of Services for Children and Families, FCSS Fort Saskatchewan, among others.

Mark Holmgren is available to speak at conferences and workshops on such topics as Leadership in Complex Times, Social Media in the Non Profit Landscape, Socio-Economic Trends & Their Implications on the Sector, and the Value of the Non Profit Sector.