Getting the most from your board
When you have recruited your board, the hard work doesn’t end! The next challenge involves making your board as effective, well managed and robust as possible to challenges. There are some common challenges associated with trustee boards and we have some compiled some pragmatic ways to manage these to make your board the best it can be.
Some common issues with trustee boards:
- Not enough trustees on the board.
- Hard to recruit and train.
- Trustees missing in action (or inaction).
- Trustees don’t have the appropriate skills.
- Meetings are poorly run.
- Trustees don’t do whats asked.
- Trustees aren’t involved.
- Trustees are overly involved.
- Trustees micro manage or overstep boundaries.
- Organising trustees equals a big burden for CEO’s.
Setting expectations for board behaviours:
You can take actions to get the most from your board and make it as efficient as possible. One of these actions is setting expectations so board members can know what will be expected from them as trustees. Trustees should be expected to:
- Be prepared for meetings. If you have meetings coming up you should make sure to distribute meeting minutes and board papers if needed to allow trustees to prepare.
- Think strategically.
- Be action focused.
- Ask the questions that need to be asked.
- Hold others to account and be prepared to be held to account, but not instigate blame culture.
- Support and positively challenge the staff team and other trustees.
- Value each other and say thank you.
- Be slow to take offence and quick to apologise.
How to ensure success from the start:
- Start with the skills audit to recruit for gaps within the current board.
- Ensure there is clarity within the job descriptions for trustees. What does the chair do? What does the CEO do? What will be the specific tasks for each trustee to carry out and are they aware of these?
- Be clear on the delegation of authority for the Chair, CEO and board so that everyone knows where the boundaries of their responsibilities are.
- Think about getting lead roles for trustees so that they can lead on a certain topic. This makes responsibility for certain areas of business very clear and can contribute to effective delegation. It is important to be very clear on what exactly this entails and communicate this well.
- Have a strategic plan to ensure everyone is aware of what the direction of the charity is and what the bigger picture is for everyone to be working toward. If you have a smaller organisation then this can be an operational plan instead for a shorter time frame.
- Think about putting a budget in place.
- Set up monthly support sessions between CEO and chair. This will ensure continued communication, accountability and the building of a positive relationship.
- Understand how to run effective meetings. This means sending out the agenda and any documentation in good time and distributing the minutes shortly after.
- Meetings should end with the setting of clear action points to be taken, it should be clear what these actions are, who is responsible for what and what the time frames are.
What to do when things aren’t going to plan:
- Talk to your chair or another trustee about your concerns. Try not to let it fester but address problems as soon as you can to try find solutions quickly.
- Remember the 80/20 rule. 20% of the trustees will normally do 80% of the work, this is quite typical for boards. Perhaps the other trustees do not have a clear enough understanding of what they need to do and that just needs to be clarified.
- Carry out regular evaluations and an annual board review to see what you have done well and what needs to be improved.
- Assess your organisation against the new charity governance code. This can get the board to think about what it should be doing as a board in terms of governance.
- Set objectives for the board with the chair so they can work through them with the rest of the board.
- Support the chair to replace ineffective trustees and look for new ones.
- Limit trustee terms and feedback to trustees at the end of terms. This can bring some flexibility and means you do not have to be stuck with ineffective board members for long periods of time.
- Boost your volunteer support and try to recruit volunteers to help you with tasks that need to be done.