The Relationship Model™

The Relationship Model™ is a model that gives clarity to the complexities of governance, leadership and management and helps you produce a healthy organization that balances staff and client (beneficiary) fulfilment.

Why The Relationship Model™?

So, you came to this website to find information about strategic planning, monitoring risk, or some other important responsibilities. Maybe now you are wondering, What’s all this about The Relationship Model™?

The Relationship Model™ addresses the breadth of structures and processes that must be established, and provides depth to these by placing them on a foundation, or as we say, the operating system of the universal understanding of relationships. We can’t ignore, as we write policy or strategic plans, or monitor risk, that relationships are always involved. So, clearly defining all relationships is fundamental to the efficiency of, fulfilment of, and clarity for all who are involved.

An internal-coach-in-training of The Relationship Model™ once said that other governance and leadership approaches and models assume that organizations are healthy, and that The Relationship Model™ helps you understand why they are, or why they are not. Understanding this is the first step to improvement and/or advancement.

Defining relationships, and understanding how power (authority) is used are the concepts of the operating system which help to understand and build healthy relationships and organizations.

Learn more about The Relationship Model™ by taking the introductory short courses called “The Universal Design of Relationships and “Introduction to The Relationship Model™”.

The Relationship Model

The Operating System (Part 1)

There are three core elements to the operating system of The Relationship Model™ on which the model is based. They define important relational concepts. The three core elements of the operating system of The Relationship Model™ are:


Relationship Structure

Understand the universal components which give clarity to relationships.


Relationship Processes

The six basic processes of human relationships define how we work together.


Relationship Behaviours

Understand how behaviours determine how power (authority) is used.

1. RELATIONSHIP STRUCTURE When you understand and implement the following five key components about relationships, your board and staff will have a clearer understanding of their own work, and also of their relationships within the organization.

  • Everyone has some authority by human rights or delegated authority.
  • All authority comes with some limitations.
  • Everyone has some responsibilities associated with rights and delegated authority.
  • All responsibilities come with expectations.
  • Everyone is accountable to someone. (Describing how accountability works is part of structure and enacting accountability is a process.)

2. RELATIONSHIP PROCESSES These six basic processes of human relationships are:

In the diagram above, the three processes on the bottom row are the processes that are involved in and support the three process in the top two rows.

3. RELATIONSHIP BEHAVIOURS Humans behave along a continuum of behaviours which shift according to personal values and circumstances. This element makes relationships complex, changeable, and requires the most attention. When we understand how these behaviours influence Relationship Processes, we can really begin to understand what contributes to a healthy organization. How authority is used in an organization can be displayed on this continuum of behaviours. It spans from complete abdication of authority at one extreme to an authoritarian control of power on the other end. A healthy organization has behaviours that sit in the middle of the continuum.

Learn more about the operating system by taking the introductory short course called “The Universal Design of Relationships”.

An organization is like a tree… a healthy tree bears healthy fruit.

In The Relationship Model™ the organizational chart is turned upside down so that it is no longer a hierarchal structure, but rather a structure that supports from the bottom up, using the analogy of a tree.

The members are the roots that bring nourishment from the soil and strength to support the tree.

The trunk is the Board of Directors which support the rest of the tree.

At the top of the trunk is the CEO.

The limbs are the senior management team who support the branches.

The branches and leaves are the staff and volunteers who bear the fruit that the organization has set out to produce.

Authority is delegated upward so that decisions are made at the level where they are most impacted.

The Applications of Governance, Leadership and Management (Part 2)

Remember those important responsibilities that we mentioned above? Let’s dig into that now.

But first, a note: It might be helpful for you to understand the terms we use. Please see the Glossary of Terms so that you can see how certain words have technical meaning in The Relationship Model™. Words like governance and strategic are reserved for the Board of Directors; words like operational, tactical and manage are reserved for the work of the CEO and staff.

In The Relationship Model™ the responsibilities of a board are clearly organized into four areas, or as we say, quadrants. These quadrants are sequential and create an annual cycle for the board. This same cycle can be applied to the tactical work of the staff.

Quadrant 4: Monitor Risk, Measure Results, and Exercise Other Board Accountabilities

Quadrant 3: Delegate Management Authority and Responsibility to the CEO

Quadrant 2: Direct Strategic Plans

Quadrant 1: Design Board Structures and Processes

In the four quadrants of responsibility we apply the structure, process and collaborative behaviours of the operating system.

Learn more about the four quadrants of the Relationship Model™ by taking the introductory short course called “Introduction to The Relationship Model™”.

STRUCTURE Are you bored by the words bylaws, policy, governance manuals, job descriptions or even MOUs? Do you regard them as dry documents that you must have but never have to look at again? Well, these documents are all written descriptions of relationships. We all know the importance of healthy relationships. In The Relationship Model™ we use the Relationship Structure described above, in these documents, to define each relationship so that all parties have clear understandings of their roles. This clarity helps to build healthy relationships and reduce conflict. These documents, when written well, become your go-to source for understanding the parameters of the relationships they describe.

There are various documents which define the relationship between two parties, as seen in the chart below.

Type of Document

Relationship of:




Membership of Organization

The Board of Directors

Structure and Processes

Governance Manual and/or Committee Terms of Reference

Board of Directors

Chair, Committees, Individual Board Members, CEO

Structure and Processes

Job Description

Board of Directors



Job Description

The supervisor

The staff member


Procedural Manuals



Structure comes before process. Build the structure and then run the processes on that structure.

PROCESS As you can see in the chart above, some of these documents also describe processes. The processes of planning, delegating, and monitoring & measuring are supported by the processes of communication, conflict resolution and decision-making which are also defined in the documents shown above. The next three quadrants are the processes of planning, delegating, and measuring & monitoring.

Take some short courses on topics for Quadrant 1 or buy the book to read more about The Relationship Model™.

So, you’ve finished the work of Quadrant 1 and it’s time in your annual cycle to do your planning for the next year(s).

For the board, the work of planning is done by developing a strategic plan. In The Relationship Model™, there are ten sequential steps to the strategic plan. If your board decides to Implement The Relationship Model™, you will receive a workbook that helps your board develop a strategic plan of ten elements. These 10 elements include everything that should be in a Strategic Plan.

For the staff, the work of planning is developing tactical plans (outputs) which will serve the needs of the beneficiaries and meet the desired impact of the strategic plan (outcomes).

Take some short courses on topics for Quadrant 2 or buy the book to read more about The Relationship Model™.

When you have a plan you need someone to execute it. The process of delegation actually takes us back to the structure we discussed in The Operating System and Quadrant 1. When you delegate work to someone you are giving them the authority to take on the responsibilities. This delegation is defined in job descriptions (Relationship Descriptions).

Take some short courses on topics for Quadrant 3 or buy the book to read more about The Relationship Model™.

Measuring, monitoring, and making adjustments, are parts of the process of accountability. Oh, there’s that ominous, hot, negative word – accountability! In The Relationship Model™ we take the steam out of that word and show you how accountability is a neutral process that helps you balance authority with responsibility.

Monitoring is simply checking progress, performance and behaviour. Monitoring allows us to make changes and improvements while plans are proceeding.

There is also risk to monitor. The board will learn to identify risk by using two simple questions that will quickly get to what’s critical:

  • What will keep you awake at night?
  • What do you not want to happen on your watch (while you are a board member)?

Risk isn’t just for one committee, such as the finance committee, to monitor. Each committee has areas of risk to monitor.

By applying the operating system to these processes, the board will be able to monitor without shadow-managing, and supervisors monitor without micro-managing.

When measuring, actual results are compared with the goals that were set. We learn what we did well, what we did poorly, what worked, and what didn’t. This gives us valuable information for better planning in the next cycle. It also enables us to set S.M.A.R.T. goals to build a stronger service future on the foundation of the past. The cycle repeats annually.

Take some short courses on topics for Quadrant 4 or buy the book to read more about The Relationship Model™.

Free survey

Take a survey to determine whether your board is a managing or governing board.


There are many benefits that arise from working with The Relationship Model™. A few of them are:

  • Having fulfiled staff and fulfiled clients
  • Having decisions made at the level that is most impacted by the decision
  • An organizational structure that supports from the bottom up, rather than an hierarchal top-down model
  • Learning about the culture of leadership
  • Knowing what standing committees are necessary, and when to use ad hoc committees
  • Having fewer and more effective board meetings
  • Improved understanding of each person’s authority and the accompanying degree of autonomy
  • A Board of Directors that is in touch with the work of the organization and its beneficiaries, without playing a managing role
  • Understanding the components of a strong strategic plan
  • Understanding the difference between strategic and tactical plans
  • All the resources, including all the work of the staff, being focused towards specific outcomes
  • Understanding what risks to monitor
  • Understanding how to measure strategic outcomes

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