Is your board super busy? Top tips on sharing the burden: bring in specialist expertise, include more junior staff and work with service users.
People on voluntary sector boards have heavy workloads – so what’s the best way to share the burden? Sub-committees may not seem exciting, but, used properly, delegating tasks will help your board to be brilliant.
Here are my six top tips on how to get the most from your sub-committees:
1. Let them delve into detail
Charity trustees often want to get involved in the nitty gritty. But in a busy board meeting, with a tight agenda, that can sometimes be a pain in the neck.
However, executives and trustees will still want to work together from time to time, to delve into detail. Sub-committees are the way to do this without taking precious time away from the primary board meeting. It’s a great way for charity staff to engage with trustees and vice versa, enabling trustees to gain a better understanding of the day-to-day issues affecting the charity while offering their own expertise.
2. Bring in specialists
If your board is proposing something new, controversial or risky, setting up a sub-committee is a clever way to use people who can bring in particular expertise but who, for whatever reason, do not want to or cannot be a full trustee.
It is also a good way to test whether people come up to scratch in terms of their style and expertise, giving you a bigger pool to choose from when recruiting for your main board.
You should also consider the “internal” outsider: someone already on your main board who is interested in a particular issue but is not an expert. They can be used as a sounding board (pun intended) and this is often a great way to test a proposal before presenting it to the rest of the board.
3. Don’t let sub-committees linger on pointlessly
It’s important to close any committee when it has run its course. For instance, you may set one up for a digital needs review and then close it when the review has been done. But committees can also evolve. Something that starts as a review of digital needs could turn into a committee that monitors the implementation of an organisational IT strategy, for instance.
4. Set boundaries
This is perhaps the most important element of committee working. To ensure good governance you must be clear on which, if any, powers the board has granted its sub-committee. That way you can ensure the reins of responsibility remain in the correct hands and avoid a situation where the committee ends up undermining the board, or vice versa. This does not have to be cumbersome – usually a one pager does the trick.
5. Engage junior members of staff
Developing staff is critical for any organisation. Boards offer an opportunity for staff to develop their skills by working with the organisation’s trustees. It also helps to build trust with staff when trustees are visible and, as a trustee, it can be eye-opening to work alongside the people managing the work you are scrutinising.
This about moving the voluntary sector from its traditional hierarchical management structure to a more egalitarian approach. We say we value our people; this is a quick way of showing that.
6. Involve service users
One of the most powerful messages the voluntary sector can send is demonstrating that it is guided by those it serves. Boardrooms are not always the most appropriate way of engaging with service users, but committees can help. If you are working on a specific piece of work it might be an idea to bring those it most directly affects into the fold. Committees can be more informal than traditional boards and, with the right guidance and frameworks in place, it’s possible to work together to solve problems.
Leon Ward is a consultant, charity chair and advisor.
Source: Guardian Voluntary Sector Online