Elizabeth Balgobin: We all know a Ms Tardy or a Mr Verbosity on our boards

We should all challenge inappropriate behaviour in an adult way, writes our columnist

Elizabeth Balgobin
Elizabeth Balgobin

I have to start this column with a disclaimer: all the characters presented are fictional and are not representative of any people I currently work with or have worked with in the past. Sort of. Some of them might have inspired these creations, augmented by the stories I have heard about other boards.

What am I going on about? Well, it's about those fellow board members you occasionally feel like throttling, and how you should deal with them. Let's look at some of them.

Ms Tardy: you know she will attend but you never know quite when. It has been known for her to turn up as much as a week late. She will ask useful questions, but often after the discussion is done and dusted and the decision taken. She means well and is energetic, but a tad annoying.

Punctilious Pete: He has been through the budget with a nit comb, provided corrections to all the grammatical errors and spelling mistakes on the annual report and every other report, and is a stickler for all questions going through the chair. Such useful skills and contributions - if only he would provide the corrections in writing and not during the discussions. Yes, that should be a full stop, but does the sentence set out the principal argument? Punctilious Pete can tell you only about the full stop.

Mr Verbosity: he will join every discussion, at length and often with volume. He knows everyone who is anyone and can network a room faster than the blink of an eye. He gets bored easily and likes the finance and audit items to be put to bed quickly.

Mrs Sometimes: she is on a number of boards, volunteers a lot and is generally busy. She knows her stuff and when she attends a meeting the quality and depth of discussion is invaluable - it's just that she is rarely there. She sends apologies for most meetings, attending maybe one a year, and is never able to make it to any sub-committee meetings.

Mr Altagenda: he's there at the meetings, he's read all the papers and prepared a response to each of them. He will argue his point and is unshakeable in his views. The only problem is that his views seem to support other organisations and work against the agreed strategy, and he presents them in a way that offends other board members. He might also be the one that is seeking some sort of deal, partnership or contract that favours his other interests.

Ms Violet: she turns up, rarely speaks and, when she does, it is always to agree with the last statement, no matter who made it. It's not clear if she has even read the papers. She does ensure the meeting is quorate and can always be counted on to turn up.

Mr Mine: he's actually the chief executive, but it's clear he runs the board and the meeting. Although not technically a board member, his influence can determine the decision before any discussion takes place. He will contact certain board members before the meeting to ensure they are fully briefed on his ideas and how he would like the discussion and decisions to go. Not all board members are part of his group.

I am pleased to say I have never heard of a board with all of these characters on it but I am sure you, like me, have met some of them and even some amalgamated characters.

Who needs to deal with them on the board? The immediate response is that it's the chair's job. It is important to try to find out why they are behaving as they do: they might be completely different in other settings, or it could be their basic characters. Their motivation for being on the board might be a clue to what drives their behaviour, or it could be that they find the combination of people on the board irksome.

I believe we should all challenge inappropriate behaviour - not in a disruptive way, but as adults. Spending time together and developing as a team might be difficult to schedule but is vital to achieving good communication, balanced working and good governance.

Elizabeth Balgobin is chair of Voice4Change England and a charity governance consultant

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