Who knows where Trustees’ time goes?

What makes for good trustees and good governance?

I am fascinated by this question. I’ve been on several trustee boards – local, national and international – and advised and supported different types of board.

I value the volunteer model in which people give their time and expertise to oversee the strategic direction of an organisation and keep it on the straight and narrow.

But the volunteer model often creates a strange dynamic about time.

Typically in the UK about half of trustees are retired – so in principle they have time to spare (though most of the retired people I know seem to be pretty busy).  The other half usually squeeze in volunteer activity when they can.

So at their worst, governing bodies seem to work in a way that’s both rushed and inefficient.

What does make for good collaboration on governing bodies?

Part of the answer is making sure that meetings and what happens between them are fit for purpose. This includes doing face to face what needs to be done face to face – and leaving the rest virtual.

Of course, the mix varies according to geography. I’m working with an international network and their needs are necessarily different to the London-based counselling organisation I’ve also supported.

Some relevant questions to help get the mix right are –

– What information do we need to monitor progress and take key decisions?
– Which decisions require collaborative discussion?
– What are our regulatory and legal obligations / fiduciary duties?
– How do we get the right ‘decision arc’ for longer term discussions?

This raises important questions about the skills mix on boards. Openness to virtual working seems to emerge as a core competency and attitude.

And Chairs need to know how to create the right mix of meeting styles to get the job done. They also need to think about the asynchronous piece – what happens between meetings. Increasingly I’m seeing a move from ubiquitous use of email to more dedicated discussion forums like Whatsapp groups.

Getting this right means trustees make best use of their time, and put that time to good use.