You will never know how much progress your board is making unless you measure it annually. To measure progress, you need some goals and benchmarks, an important component of your board’s self-assessment.
Board assessment does not have to be an arduous, extended process. Once every three-to-five years, it is good to do an in-depth assessment. Then, in the intervening years, a quick check will suffice. When possible have a governance consultant guide you through the in-depth assessment. They will bring external objectivity and extensive knowledge.
There are a number of tools for your in-depth assessment. There is a self assessment included in the 501 Commons Best Practices for Boards. The governance portion of the (fee-based) is another one. The TCC Group’s Core Capacities Assessment Tool also addresses governance. BoardSource publishes several board assessment tools, and your consultant may very well have developed one as well.
Do not shortchange or rush the assessment process. Provide plenty of opportunity for board members and key staff to give confidential input and participate fully in the process, and try not to shy away from the difficult topics or issues. Addressing them honestly will lead your group to greater success.
Once all your input has been gathered and the assessment report prepared, devote some time to a candid discussion of what you will do with the information. Ideally, you will create a Board Development Plan for the coming three-to-five years with goals to address the areas where your board can improve. Then do a quick check each year to see how you are progressing on that plan as well as making sure no new challenges have arisen. If getting started on this seems overwhelming, there is a simple tool, the Healthy Board Checklist, that you can use to begin incorporating assessment into your governance work.