Whose on Board?

BoardroomIt is 8.20 am and I have taken up position in the corner of the boardroom waiting for the meeting to start.

I am here to observe the board meeting of a not for profit organisation as part of helping the board with its development and performance.

My initial observations include:

  • Of the 11 people around the table, only 2 are women with one of those being the chief executive
  • The age range is 50 – 70 with the exception of the chief exec who is in her late 30’s
  • They are all Caucasian
  • One board member is absent due to ‘work commitments’  
  • The majority have served more than 1 term of office

During the meeting I noted that:

  • The chair and one other board member dominated the meeting
  • The chief executive seemed unsure in her delivery, wavered when questions were asked (some were antagonistic), seemed intimidated and was unable to stand her ground  
  • There was little challenge and debate in the meeting
  • Not everyone’s opinions and perspectives were sought when making crucial decisions

Board performance is critical to the success of any organisation and board level appraisals are now increasingly more used. The UK Corporate Governance Code (2010), states that “the board should undertake a formal and rigorous annual evaluation of its own performance and that of its committees and individual directors.”

Women around the worldIn this blog, I am going to pick up on my first impressions and the composition of the board.

In evaluating its performance, a board needs to assess whether it has the right people with the right skills at the table.              Some aspects to consider when doing this include:   

– A balance between continuity and renewal is required with the right combination of skills and expertise. This combination of skills and expertise will evolve as a result of the ever changing external environment and the challenges and opportunities that it presents. Having the right people with the right knowledge and up to date skills at the table is crucial.

– The world we live in and in which organisations operate are diverse and board composition should reflect that. I know of several boards whose members are all Caucasian yet the people that they serve are from a multitude of ethnic backgrounds

– A diverse board leads to a healthy mix of background and perspectives. This not only helps to reduce group think but can also result in a number of benefits as highlighted in the Tyson Report

– Women play an important part in introducing this diversity of perspective into the boardroom as highlighted in The Davies Review, Women on Boards. Here a number of barriers were emphasised which resulted in McKinsey’s Women Matter 2010, calling for organisations to cast a wider net when sourcing talent and looking beyond the traditional routes such as public listed and commercial sectors.

– I can think of several boards who have recruited chief executives who have retired and have gone on to build a career by developing a portfolio of non executive positions. They are usually time constraint (like the board member who couldn’t make it to the meeting), don’t usually get involve beyond attending meetings and rarely make any significant contribution. 

Composition is critical in supporting a board’s ability to carry out its duties and responsibilities effectively. Undertaking a Board evaluation provides an opportunity to review the balance of skills, experience and diversity.

Have you got the right people on board?

Love to hear your perspective. What is the composition of your board?

How diverse is your board? If you are a female non executive, what was your route to becoming a board member?

Images by Surachi and Naypong at freedigitalphotos.net

Vera in 2012I am a professional coach (MA in Coaching & Mentoring) working with women and leaders to build their confidence and know how, to progress, make successful changes, leverage their influence, impact, presence and communication. I am a part-time lecturer in leadership and work within organisations to develop high performing teams, mentoring schemes and facilitate skills training in leadership and management development.


About verawoodhead

I'm an executive coach, leadership facilitator and learning & development consultant working with managers and leaders to develop the skills and behaviours to inspire performance and drive results; achieve promotion ; make successful career changes, be resilient and thrive at work. Within organisations, I help to facilitate better conversations, design learning interventions which deliver practical and lasting solutions aligned to business strategy and goals. Connect with me on Twitter @verawoodhead
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