The relationship between boards and executive teams can be difficult to perfect, but getting the right balance is often very specific to the nature and scale of the organisation, its people and present operating environment.
As a starting point one of the most influential relationships on the board is that between the Chair and CEO. Although technically the first among equals, the chair is the board leader and the CEO leads the organisation. Both appointments can be the most critical and challenging thing for purpose boards to get right.
I do realise that some Chairs and Presidents are appointed but many constitutions allow for the board to elect the president or Chair as soon as practicable after the AGM. As a board member you should not abdicate this responsibility and make sure you take an interest in both these appointments.
Why are these roles important…The right Chair will bring the board and organisation together and work to facilitate collaboration and due process …the right CEO will have a strong focus on the cause today while taking a strategic outlook on transforming the organisation into its future self.
The relationship between the whole board and the executive is equally important so they need to establish policies, procedures, protocols and working parameters for critical activities.
Most boards and management teams don’t take the time to discuss how they will interact. Getting the balance right of board led vs organisational led activities is critical to success. Don’t assume that everyone is on the same page or has a common outlook.
Issues and confusion can arise around
who should be leading key activities, one example might be strategy
what are the key priorities for your cause, board and executive?
Does the group have a shared vision
Clear reporting requirements,
There may be no clear decision-making frameworks,
and ambiguity around information sharing and creation
what should go from the board through the CEO to the organisation – and what should come to the board
To make this work this is my model of RESPECTful relationships.
Leveraging Real Knowledge and information, not opinion or assumption, and having a factual approach to decision making. Taking the time to understand the experience of fellow directors as well as the organisations managers, practitioners and wider supporters.
Supporting and backing the CEO, senior team and organisation to do the right thing. Encourage development, innovation, mistakes and risk taking. Embracing place, by understand where everyone comes from and what bought them to the board or organisation today is powerful.
It is critical that the board develops empathy and an understanding of each other, the client and key stakeholders and can use that information to influence good decision making. This also needs to be a focus with director recruitment and training of the board.
It is easy for board members to start making overly commercial decisions and forget what the organisations purpose is.
Finding Common ground. This relationship comes with many expectations, some overt but usually more unspoken. Exploring where the board and senior team stand on communication, working with each other, providing information, and ground rules for how the board and team will interact.
Probably one of the most important aspects of board/organisation relationship trust needs to be developed and nurtured over time. Trust killers can include an over reliance on reporting and large amounts of information such as board packs getting into the 100s of pages, poor delegation and not following through with agreements.
For these relationships to work, collaborative practices are key
Directors need to practice Hats on and Hats off – Ensuring not to take over when the activity is organisation led
Create room for failure. Both boards and execs need to try new things and experiment. Build this into risk evaluation and risk appetite
Working through and respecting the CEO, this applies both ways
Executives, clients and subject matter experts presenting to the board thus building trust, understanding and communication channels
Accepting bad news. Establishing how the organisation or board is going to share tough conversation
Open discussion about what culture means. What you say and what you do has a big impact on culture, risk and innovation.
Don’t say you want to be innovative and agile then weigh down the team with negativity, bias and paperwork
Getting out of the organisations way. Establish clear operating parameters and measures…and sticking to them
Most importantly have regular and open discussion, debate and collaboration; sort out issues early and build consensus often.
I hope this helps your thinking in moving towards a more productive, inclusive and innovative board.
By working to attract diverse board members, training your board to lead with confidence conviction and purpose, while building productive relationships between the board and management team, you will go along way to advancing your cause and creating a truly sustainable organisation.