‘We’re not in the same boat, but we are in the same storm’ has been much quoted as we’ve faced very different challenges during the last few months. If you’re a trustee you’ll have had to focus on crisis management, adjusting to virtual meetings, facing difficult decisions about finance, funding and service delivery, and safeguarding your beneficiaries, staff and volunteers. Now as lockdown eases, you will need to focus on how to govern effectively through change and uncertainty.
Board meetings will continue to be held online, and this can bring its own unique challenges. Trustees have a responsibility to make collective decisions and actively contribute to board discussions, but some may find it difficult to share their thoughts and engage. Board dynamics may have been affected by trustees’ personal experience of the crisis, with health, emotional and financial issues impacting their behaviour. Some trustees may have been involved in day to day operations during the pandemic, whilst others may have been shielding and may be disengaged and anxious. Board dynamics will change, that’s inevitable, and thought should be given on how to strengthen the board team.
The Association of Chairs have tips on how chairs can make online meetings work well, which include the importance of a well thought out agenda and establishing ground rules. Think creatively and utilise screensharing, online whiteboards and other feedback facilities, SCVO’s Digital Guide to Virtual Meetings will help with this. It can be difficult to ‘read the room’ online, so think about using polls for voting and breakout rooms to help keep trustees engaged and allow them to discuss more contentious issues in smaller groups, bringing back collective thinking to the wider board.
Organisational priorities may change and strategic plans will need to be reviewed. Some decisions will need to be made quickly, so make sure your board has the right information at the right time to ensure flexibility and good decision making. You may need to meet more frequently and delegate some decisions to a sub-group, ensuring there is clarity on which matters are reserved for the board. With great uncertainty around funding and various income generation challenges, consider recruiting new trustees with different skills to fill any identified gaps.
Inevitably there will be differing attitudes to both risk and opportunity amongst trustees, so it is vital that you tease out the possible implications of any actions you decide to take. Your legal structure may expose your trustees to potential personal liability if there is a risk of insolvency. Take legal advice where necessary and check out NCVO’s information on scenario planning to help your board assess uncertainties in your external environment and make informed choices about the future.
To end with another quote, ‘change is inevitable, change is constant’, and this is true never more so than now. Our sector is #NeverMoreNeeded and an uncertain future needs innovative trustees that will offer values based leadership and ensure their organisation stays true to its purpose. We don’t have all the answers and we’re all learning as we go. Join us on Tuesday 30 June to explore Board Leadership in Challenging Times.