Onboard governance consultant Tesse Akpeki shares her top tips for every charity board to excel.
Spend time on trustee recruitment
Good Governance: A Code for the Voluntary and Community Sector (Principle 3) states “An effective board will provide good governance and leadership by working effectively both as individuals and as a team”. The best boards take time out to attract the skills, knowledge, attitudes, behaviours and experience they need to build an effective board. Twinned with this, a diverse board will be less likely to fall into the trap of “group think”. Having recruited board members, it is crucial to take time to give them a warm welcome to the organisation and induct them into the role.
Focus on the role of chair
Board chairs can have considerable influence on board operations. Recent research by Chris Cornforth of Open University and the Association of Chairs shows that the traits of an effective chair are very similar across a range of organisations. Effective chairs are goal directed, are socially aware and emotionally mature (also known as emotionally intelligent). These chairs are creative, flexible, persistent, committed, independent-minded, understand the big picture and are compassionate.
Address board/staff relationships
Lack of clarity about what is governance and management can plague even the best of boards. Effective governance emerges through the joint work of board members, the chief executive and the senior executive. Board members should agree with the chief executive the nature of the contact between trustees and senior staff. This level of clarity helps them to recognise appropriate boundaries and how they can work better together.
More boards are introducing confidential sessions attended by board members only. These sessions can provide an invaluable forum for board members to reflect on their performance and discuss those matters that keep them awake at night with a view to working better as a strategic team.
Invest in the board as a team
An organisation may have sound processes and good structures, but often these are not sufficient. The trend today recognises that people matter in the shaping of effective governance. The Compass/Cass Business School report, Delivering Effective Governance by Mike Hudson and Jacinta Ashworth, highlights the importance of teamwork and trust. The cohesive board has members who think together, rather than think alike, arriving at the best decision.
Review board effectiveness
Effective boards need to reflect on their performance. Where are they excelling? Where are they not doing so well? What activities does the organisation need to start doing, keep doing? Is the organisation supported by an able board moving in the right direction for the long term? Really small changes can make a difference. Trustee appraisals provide a way to supporting board members to contribute meaningfully to the organisation.