Are you considering joining your first board and not sure where to begin or what you should be thinking about? Below are some key points to be considering (these reflections are a summary that came from an hour long discussion with a group of experienced board members Steven Moe helped facilitate recently – so is the collective wisdom of about 15 people):
- Be clear on your motivation – if it’s about kudos or prestige then it is unlikely to result in being effective or be sustainable. One way to test your motivation is (for non profit boards) to consider whether or not you would actually give them money if they asked for that? If not, well…
- Expectations are critical – so clarify what is expected of you (the number of meetings, number of committees, other work contributions) – it is not understanding what is expected of you that usually leads to issues.
- People are key – talk with the CEO, meet with the other board members, get to know them first before committing.
- Undertake due diligence – do at least some basic checking and ask to see the finances, understand why the last person left, ask questions about future strategy. If it is appropriate, ask to attend a board meeting just to see how they operate before agreeing to join – and pay particular attention to ‘board only time’ to see what is discussed and the style and approach of the chair.
- Ask for an induction – make it an expectation that you will receive an induction to learn about the history, ways of decision making, explanation of future etc. Having a manual for new board members can be good too.
- Mentors – Value and seek out mentors who can give you advice as you start a governance role.
- Ask questions – don’t be afraid to ask things before you join, in fact that is often what a board is looking for in a new appointee because it shows the style and approach the person brings.
- Culture rules – make sure you find out about the culture of the board and as part of that learn how the CEO relates to the Board.
- Resources – Some good resources can be found at Sport New Zealand here as well as IOD resources here and BOMA directors programme courses here. For more information on governance, you can also check out our article “Good Governance” here.
Having posted the points above on Linked In there were a lot of comments added with some insights from others, such as:
- Dorenda Britten: Listen
- Sue McCabe: Make sure you are up for what can go wrong – not just business as usual governance – and realise the seriousness of the accountability you take on. My first governance role was for the childcare provider my kids were at. I wanted to ‘give back’ and get experience. We found out that the crèche building had friable, leaking asbestos (so had to consider whether we’d breached health and safety law), needed to manage understandable health worries from staff and parents (no risk in the end), then it led to the centre’s closure and we had to lay off the most wonderful staff and wind up the business. Thankfully the Board was strong and competently led by the Chair Kelvin Wong, so the issues were worked through as well as they could be. Good question Steven Moe – I look forward to more answers.
- Camille Wrightson: Particularly as a young woman- you might be surprised what you can contribute! Don’t assume everyone in the room is necessarily smarter than you or that they’ve thought of everything.
- Hannah McKnight: Make sure you truly have the time to commit to a Board role without spreading yourself too thin at mahi, at home, and with other commitments you value. Wellbeing comes first and while an amazing opportunity, you need to ensure you can give your full self to a Board. This is why I’m yet to go ahead with a formal Board position. Timing is everything.
- Andrew Phillips: Read your rules document / deed very carefully or maybe advise myself of the outcome of the Cricket World Cup this year, a boundary count victory has got to pay out reasonably.
- Barry Baker: Really good question , research the chair and their back ground. Meet with them and get a feel for them. The chair (and CEO relationship ) is a good indicator of how the board and org operate.
- Dorenda Britten: Read your briefing/ board papers, learn all you can about the organisation concerned – its history, threats and the context for future opportunities. Listen and observe the characteristics of the existing board members and the leadership team. Figure out how best to use the skills you have been hired to contribute.
- Phil Johnson: Temper your enthusiasm to “get involved” with your responsibility to govern. Mistake I made in my first role was to assume that operational involvement was an inherent element of governance.
We hope that these tips will be of use to you as you start on the journey of joining a board. Please feel free to contact Steven Moe at firstname.lastname@example.org or 021 761 292 should you require assistance – we have a lot of free resources for start-ups, boards and companies including “Start-ups Legal Toolkit” which covers the key issues we see people face when starting out (it’s a free PDF guide in the resources section of this site).