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10 easy ways to improve your board

We all want better boards, but we don’t always have the time, or the money, to invest in board improvement. This is why we’ve come up with our top 10 low cost / no cost ways of developing your board.

  1. Insist on 100% attendance.

The easiest way for all of your board members to know what’s going on, contribute to discussions, and make better decisions is for everyone to be in the room.

  1. Introduce a board calendar

Set dates for your board and committee meetings for the year ahead. Make sure you include dates of returns to Companies House and HMRC, and other meetings like strategy sessions, away days and Chair/CEO meetings so that everyone can get them in their diary and make them a priority.

  1. Re-examine your board agenda

There is a tendency for all of us to fall into a rut of standing agenda items. Periodically check these to ensure your board is discussing the things that matter, and not something that was important 2 years ago!

  1. Seek out new talent

There are many great people out there who are happy to join the right board if they are approached. Keep a record of anyone you feel may contribute, and be sure to keep them up to date about your organisation. When board positions become available, you are more likely to have a pool of strong, interested candidates for the job.

When thinking of who to target, start with the strategy. Think about what needs to happen in the next few years. Then be clear about what the board needs to do to add value to that.

  1. Encourage discussion, challenge and humour

Instil a culture of open meetings in which board members can constructively challenge the CEO and each other. People who are confident that they can raise ideas and concerns are much more likely to be productive. A bit of humour goes a long way to making board meetings more enjoyable and engaging.

  1. Get to know each other

Board members may only meet every few months, so it can be difficult to get to know each other. Getting everyone to speak at meetings and having board members’ pen portraits in your governance manual goes a long way to letting board colleagues know where each other is coming from. Schedule some social time, over a meal, at least a few times each year, so that people can engage as people, and not just as board members.

  1. Ask ‘stupid’ questions

Asking ‘stupid’ questions is a must for any board. It’s great to take a step back and say “Why are we here?”, “Who are our customers?”, “What exactly do we do?”, “Where do we get most of our revenue?”, “How much are we spending on…?”. Thinking about the basics can be very useful. This has to be tempered by preparing properly for board meetings. The staff team puts a lot of effort into preparing board packs, and being asked questions which are already answered in the papers doesn’t help their motivation levels.

  1. Get regular board development

Devote some time at each board meeting to development. This doesn’t have to involve bringing in an expensive consultant. If a board member has a particular expertise in (for instance) reading accounts, social media, or the latest industry development, get them to brief the other board members. It’s a great, cost-effective way to share knowledge, and has the added benefit of helping board members getting to know each other. Why not try circulating a challenging article on ‘The Role of the Board’, and then allow time for debate. It’s amazing what we can learn from each other.

  1. Listen

Really listen. To each other. To staff. To customers. To funders. Find out what they’re saying about your organisation, and how you can do what you do better. Share what you learn with your board colleagues.

  1. Celebrate successes

Being a board member carries serious responsibilities and you need to be reminded why you put yourself on the line. Remember to celebrate the organisation’s achievements. They’re why you became a board member in the first place!