Well, aside from peace on earth and a decent home for all, here are ten things from EMA’s Zoe Wortley that might just make the life of your Board Members more effective, more purposeful and more satisfying!

Dear Santa,

On behalf of all Board Members everywhere (who have been very good this year), please can we have:

1.  A countdown clock

Having worked in the sector for well over 20 years and attended hundreds of Board, Committees and Trusts over that time, then there’s nothing worse than a meeting that drastically overruns……or even worse a culture whereby this is the norm.

There can be many reasons for this from poor chairing, to badly structured and unmanageable agendas, but it can be avoided.

2.  Paperless practice

Remember those days when a 300-page printed document landed on the doorstop by courier just before a meeting? Roughly the same size of the Argos catalogue your kids or grandkids are scouring for their Santa list; but nowhere near as expensive or entertaining.

Thankfully for most this is a thing of the past, but not for all! Board Members want papers well in advance of meetings so that they can consider the content and ensure that any questioning or challenge they raise is well considered and relevant. I know many established Board Members who give the authors the ‘heads up’ when they know they’ll be raising an important issue on a paper so that they can come prepared to provide and appropriate response.

3.  Structure

Well-structured papers that clearly set out a business case, an appropriate level of background information and clear recommendations allowing room for discussion and influence. Simple.

4.  Punctuation penalties

For Board Members who think it appropriate to point out that the full stop on page two, paragraph 2.10 should actually be a comma. An eye on detail and the bigger picture is one thing, derailing a debate about development risk can be counterproductive. Board Members should be focused on strategic issues, not getting into the operational – use your time well!

5.  A shared vision

One which is shared by the Board, exec and wider organisation that balances social purpose with good business sense and maps out the way forward.

It’s amazing how many organisations struggle to achieve this. It can be caused by issues such as disagreements over key business drivers e.g. a push to develop more, or whether or not to move away from care provision, or it can be a personality issue whereby certain members of the Board or Senior Teams just can’t work effectively together and this can rapidly become toxic. Being on the Board of an organisation who can’t get this right can be painful and can inhibit to organisation effectively delivering its objectives.

6.  Turkey butties

Or well, quite simply, anything that keeps you fed and watered. It may sound trivial, but ensuring refreshments are available sends a signal that you value the input and time Board Members offer. Many will have completed a full day’s work, juggled all sorts of domestic issues in order to attend and then dived in the car to get over in time – arriving to a decent spread re-sets the brain and stomach so everyone can concentrate on matters at hand!

One Chair used to say to me that a yawn was a silent scream for coffee…and I agree!

7.  Robust appraisals

 Boards like to know that they are doing well – both as a collective and as individuals. There’s nothing worse than finding out during an inspection that your governance arrangements aren’t up to scratch! Appraisals also aren’t only about assessing the performance of your Board or the individuals within it. They provide great opportunities for thanking your members and praising what they have done well, gauging their view on the future and assessing their ability and willingness to do more in the future e.g. chair a committee. Comprehensive and regular appraisal processes also give an organisation the opportunity to share collective and individual development, highlight skills crossovers and gaps, and assess how fit for the future your Board is.

8.  Christmas do

With the pressures of modern life, and most Board Members having other hats to wear, it can be hard to make the number of meetings and events manageable. However, building your board as an effective team is vital and all Board’s I’ve dealt with over the years have seen the value in away days, team building events and social gatherings. As much as there is an expense, most organisations can see how this adds value and some now build in this into Board induction processes.

Board Members want to know who their colleagues are and what they bring to the table.

9.  World peace

Or at the very least, peace around the Board table. It really goes without saying but Boards are at their most effective when they get along, and when they work effectively with the Executive. An environment where people are not listening isn’t productive.

10.  To know they are making a difference

I remember about two years into my first role in housing I went out on site to a new development where two families were moving into their new homes just before Christmas. Both had been in temporary accommodation and they were so overjoyed at getting the keys to their new homes. The penny dropped that day as to what the sector was about the impact it has. This has stayed with me ever since and I’ve heard countless similar recollections from others in the sector. Making what we do real is incredibly important, so ensure board members get to see this first hand.

So, how many of these have you already granted for your Board and how many more can you gift them?

 Zoe Wortley is Director of Governance and Strategy Consultancy at EMA Business and Management Consultancy.