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  • Writer's pictureKeith Jeffrey

Getting the most from your Board!

An occupational hazard for running a cultural organisation is the need for governance and oversight. In other words a Board. I’ve sat on Boards and been the CEO reporting to a Board so I have a wealth of experience which I have reflected on and here are some ideas to get your Board working better for you and the organisation.


1. Get on well with your Chair!

The Chair and the Chief Exec/Director is the most important relationship in any organisation. Work at it. Make sure you are on the same page. If it is not working find some ways of making it work. Coaching (ahem) can help, so can getting rid of the Chair. Make sure this fundamental is in place before anything else.


2. Boring stuff matters

You do need oversight, you do need to report. Reporting stuff is legally required. Accounts, Health & Safety. Policy after policy has to be properly presented and communicated. But the most important thing to get right is the money. If the money is right then most other things go away and then you can flex your creativity. So make sure all legalities are properly covered but in a way which does not gum up the meetings.


3. Report by exception

Only bring to the Board issues of concern. If everything is going to plan then accept that and move on. If they have questions on detail Board members should ask them outside the meeting. This requires you to get this agreed first and for you to sell the benefits, so make sure you have your Chair’s agreement first.


4. The preciousness of Board meetings

Points 1 and 2 have the aim of allowing your Board the freedom to discuss the strategic things which matter in the medium to long term. Board members have little time anyway papers and hearing those papers regurgitated in long dull board meetings is simply boring. It’s up to you to maximise this precious resource in ways which help you and your organisation fulfil your purpose.


5. Recruit to tasks not functions

Every Board I’ve been on says we need an artist, we need a marketer, we need a lawyer. That’s fine but WHY? Is it useful for you and the team?

Spend some time being clear about what you need from a Board member and focus it around a clear task. Then recruit to that role. It is important to be representative of your communities but you need also to make sure the people involved are actively contributing to your work and purpose. It’s better for them and it's better for you.


6. Run discussions not meetings

At one of the organisations I ran we used to have thematic board discussions timed to the annual planning cycle. So one meeting we would look at programming then we would look at marketing the aim always being to draw on the expertise of the people in the room to help us get better at what we did.


Think about the strategic insight an experienced and properly engaged board can have and make sure those discussions happen.


7. Talk to your Board members

I was on a Board for a charity for nearly 5 years. During that time I had no conversations with the CEO and only 1 or 2 with the chair. Make sure there is at least annually, a conversation with each Board member to make sure the relationship is working. You’d be surprised at the insights they can provide in informal conversations. Common courtesy as well. They are giving up their free time to help. A coffee once in a while doesn’t seem too much to ask does it?


8. Strategy

To reiterate the point, go into Board meetings to address strategic issues. Don’t sweat the detail, focus on the strategic context you're working in, the nature of the work you do and the people you impact. That means Board members have to be engaged in what you do which means you have to encourage them to be engaged.


9. Build social relationship between Board members

A Board is a team so you should work hard at making sure the team works effectively. I have been in certain Boards where I have had no personal introduction to colleagues with whom I share a whole set of legal responsibilities. You always work better with people you know so spend some time to build the Brad up as functioning team


10. Turnover is good

Whilst you don’t want board members leaving every few months having them stay too long can be just as bad. Keep recruiting new members and limit terms to a max of 3 years and establish a protocol that these are renewed only in exceptional situations


11. Commit to ongoing L&D

Your board needs to move with the times. Yes it’s important to know the latest changes n company law but it is also important to know best management practice. Set your board up to be a learning board with times and resources committed to growing capabilities


12. Review the Board's performance

How do you know the board is working well. Agree appropriate standards and make sure you meet them. These could be behavioural as well as functional.


That’s a lot of advice! Hope you find it helpful!





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