Friday, December 17, 2010

Nine years of being a board member - lessons learnt

Yesterday was my last board meeting. I have learned many things by being on a board for nine years.

Here is some of what I have learned:

1) Boards need to focus on mission. Strategies should support mission rather than distract from it.

2) Board members need time to gain the knowledge and confidence to fully contribute. I think the first one or two years are a matter of finding your way even if you are given a good induction and commit to learning about the organisation and its environment. It is bewildering that some housing associations seek to rotate resident board members after three years – board renewal should not be about getting rid of new blood.

3) Boards need practitioners. I can say with confidence as a non-housing practitioner that housing associations need housing practitioners. I had worked as a consultant and as an auditor in the housing sector but recognised that having hands-on practitioners could bring something extra. They can re-balance the inevitable information asymmetry between full-time executive managers and part-time non-executive board members. (In my day job I have seen colleges how education practitioners are vital for adequate board level scrutiny at colleges.)

4) Boards can recruit excellent board members from a range of fields. If an organisation can afford board remuneration (and if it is legally allowed to pay it), it can be almost overwhelmed by interest. (I had not fully appreciated this when I was wary about board remuneration.) More recently I learned that social networks like LinkedIn can play a valuable role in attracting and identifying new talent.

5) Board members – however individually talented – need to be wielded into an excellent board. That is not automatic – it requires a chair to leverage in all the talents as well as encourage useful challenge and teamwork.

Apologies if some of that just sounds like common sense.

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