It’s all to do with readiness for learning, time and place.
A Board Effectiveness Review is an intervention. It is an external view, a perspective from outside the system. To commission one without any preparedness in a Board to do or think about things differently is a bit of a paradox. So why do so many Board Effectiveness Reviews sit on a shelf, filed under “interesting but not actioned”?
It’s complex. A Board Effectiveness Review often tells Boards what they inherently “know” but haven’t openly acknowledged to each other, or if they have, it is on the “too difficult” or “not now” pile. So when issues are brought into the open, there is a bit of embarrassment first of all, plus then the difficulty of what to do about it. The key word here is “do”.
Boards like resolution, decisions and actions. But many of the things that Board Effectiveness Reviews highlight cannot simply be solved by one or two straightforward actions. To be honest if they could have been, they would have been! Often things are linked so where any change is contemplated in one area, there are implications somewhere else. Things must join together in a coherent whole, all in service of the long term success of the organisation.
So what is often required is that Boards take time to think and consider the priority and sequence of any changes they want to implement. The Chair ultimately carries responsibility for making sure this happens and may personally be accountable for leading on some recommendations, for example: rethinking the focus of the Board agenda or redesigning the Board meetings and subcommittee meetings landscape. But this first requires some discussion and agreement on what the priorities are, how the Board should be spending its time and what the inherent risks of changing from the current structure are.
An important principle is that the Board collectively must own its own development and support the Chair in thinking through the implications of recommendations and be prepared actively to contribute to their successful implementation.
It is our view that too often the Chair is expected to carry the responsibility of Board development. A good effective Board is one where everyone on it can collectively congratulate themselves. But equally a poorly performing, ineffective Board is one where everyone can collectively blame themselves. Too often they point the finger at the Chair.
For more information, please contact Judith Nicol, Director of Leadership Services.