Last week was Trustees Week and therefore we heard many good and many horror stories about trustees and trusteeship.
Many of the trustees that I come across who grumble about their organisation feel disempowered. I sympathise, to some extent, with the Chief Executive or Chair who has experiences of bad trustees and bad boards; but each board has to be treated according to its own context. And, there are ways of mitigating these issues, so, if you want to make your trustees more effective then how do you do so?
Develop and redevelop your code of conduct
It is always useful to have a starting point for both trustees and the executive staff when managing each other to refer to a trustees code of conduct. It sets expectation, restrictions, liberties and generally offers a parameter for trustees to operate within. Of course, it is smart and right to develop these code of conducts in conjunction with trustees. To show willingness, it might be worth revisiting this code every couple of years; before a major recruitment drive, for instance. It is important to do this because as a board and charity develops you will come across new issues that the code should cover.
Insist on an induction for all trustees. Or, if you are a trustee, insist that you are inducted. Trustees are the guardians and governors of everything the charity does. An induction allows the playing field to be levelled; allows trustees to get a full understanding of what the charity does and allows the executive a chance to ensure their trustees ‘get it’. And, make sure the induction covers what trustees do, their duties and what is expected of them.
Inductions do have a an expiry date. What I learn is year one as a trustee may be completely different to what I need to know in year three. So, Chairs in conjunction with Chief Executives should be keeping an eye on the board and identifying any skills gaps they have and any training they need. It’s always a useful exercise to have trustees self evaluate their own skills sets to help identify the gaps. If you are a trustee yourself, take it upon yourself to flag your gaps and seek some top up training. For most areas, there will be talent in your executive team that can help – it does not have to be expensive. A trained board is a useful board.
Allow the occasional deep-dive into detail
This is one of the most important elements of engaging and creating an effective board. Now, we all know that trustees should not be detail oriented all of the time – but at your disposal is a board room of talent – a great way to engage that talent is to allow them to get involved. If you have a big project, try putting in a sub-committee and ask for people from around the table to get involved. This will allow the experts to offer their skills sets and offer the learners a chance to get their head around something whilst also offering a good litmus test for new ideas, solutions and problems.
Always set parameters
Whenever you create a new sub-committee, taskforce or project board make sure you have a clear understanding of the role of that body. Ensure power is defined and that the remit is crystal clear. If you do this at the beginning, it can help avoid any unnecessary power struggles of assumptions. For example, if a Chair is part of a sub-committee that makes a decision it doesn’t automatically mean that the decision carries – sub-committees tend to draw their power from the board and their decisions are subject to ratification. But, if people do not know this then things can go astray.
Reflect and review
Trustees should be seeking appraisals from their Chair on an annual basis. But, also, the Chair should be facilitating board self-reflection and asking themselves whether they are fit for purpose and/or where they can improve to do their job better. The idea of individual appraisals to give some breathing space to individual trustees to discuss their concerns with their Chair. It also helps build the relationship between the Chair and their board - an element of effective boards that often is missed.