What Makes a Good Board?

12 November 2019

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Whilst answering this question may be relatively simple, and perhaps for many, obvious, it’s still a worthwhile exercise to reflect on what ‘good looks like’ for a board.  The gold standard.  Here are some of our thoughts – basic but no less important, relevant and powerful a reminder.

 

The purpose of the board of directors is help the Chair steer the organization into the right direction.  In order to do so, it has to have highly competent individuals with a variety of complementary skills and experiences to work together as a well-balanced team.  Together, this team should have a healthy culture in order for them to perform their individual roles as well as collaborate with the others to make the most effective long-term decisions for the organisation.

 

Clarity of Roles, Responsibilities and Focus

Powerful and effective teams have a clear comprehension and appreciation of their roles, awareness of their responsibilities and expectations of their contribution to the continuing objectives and success of the organization. Many boards have a formal code to which they refer and adhere to establish constancy and universal understanding.

 

Board Demographics

An effective, value-adding board is diverse in every facet – in skills (eg finance, business development, technology, human resources, industry expertise, strategic vs operational etc); experience; representation (eg gender, race, socioeconomic, geographical etc); and ability, amongst many other things.  The reasons for this are manifold and will be covered in a different blog but suffice to say, if you don’t know why it’s important, it’s vital that you look into changing this quick smart!  Each and every member contributes something unique and valuable to the board, to ensure that it delivers on the vision of the organisation and that it embodies a healthy version of its culture.

 

At a minimum, boards should have:

  • a strong and fair Chairperson (see previous blog)
  • a shared respect for each other and for their roles & responsibilities
  • a synergistic culture that respects and embodies diversity in all forms
  • a balanced mix of skills, experience and a variety of tenure within the members
  • independent and sympathetic representatives
  • a practical sized board
  • types of directors eg executive and non-executive

 

Board Members and Performance

One aspect of the board of directors is to review the CEO’s performance on an annual basis.  It is strongly suggested that the board members perform a review of themselves as individuals and as a group too.    Ofttimes, it can be sufficient to review internally but an external evaluation can highlight areas previously not considered, blindspots and potential areas of growth.  Boards can often be split into various committees (eg executive, governance, resources etc) as forms of oversight.

 

Classic board member profiles are likely to include the following (and there can be overlaps in these roles within members):

 

  • financial/accounting
  • technology
  • legal
  • risk
  • sales and marketing
  • strategy
  • organization specific insights
  • industry specific insights
  • communication
  • leadership

 

Of great importance too is how else board members can contribute eg a broad network of contacts within the industry or with potential funders.

 

Board Culture

A culture of trust and respect is vital for a high-performing board which creates value-add.  To be at its most effective, the board has to work synergistically as a team as opposed to a disparate group of talented individuals.  To that end, it undoubtedly requires effective collaboration, sincere communication and mutual respect.  With these, one should have perceptive and insightful examination, constructive criticism and robust debate between board members – executive and non-executive.

 

The Chair has a vital role in ensuring that the culture forms the basis of a healthy and successful board.  Strong cultures also encourage and value:

  • confidentiality
  • complete divulgence of information
  • routine formal and informal evaluation and assessment
  • effective member recruiting (identifying strengths and weaknesses, board demographics, gaps, diversity etc)
  • induction, training and development

 

A fully engaged is a highly performing board.

 

Board Vision and Strategic Planning

Boards should also focus on the mission of the organization by focusing on strategic planning.  An effective way to do this is to plan an annual meeting which sole focuses on reviewing the previous year and planning for the year to come and preferably thereafter too.  Planning for the future should also include recruitment for the board to ensure that it is as fit as it can be.

 

If an independent third-party facilitator can support this endeavour to ensure more rounded and balanced thinking, then all the better!

 

 

With these in mind, we would encourage each and every board member to self reflect as individuals and as a collective to see if they are truly exemplifying the principles of that gold standard.  As a consequence, regular board evaluations are highly recommended.

 

Go forth and be excellent board members!!

This article is part of our board fundamentals series.

 

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