Workshop: Personal Trainer

Stephen Bubb

Some junior staff want to attend board meetings. I don't think this is appropriate, but what is good practice?

I think your instinct is absolutely right. It is not appropriate.

However, I am not aware of anything which sets out "good practice". As a surrogate for this, I asked my own board members for their views. The Acevo board consists of chief executives elected from the membership.

The majority agreed it would not be appropriate to have junior staff attending meetings.

It is very important not to confuse the boundaries that need to be in place between the work of the executive, and the strategic role played by a non-executive trustee board.

There are a number of dangers in staff attending meetings. What would their role be? Would they simply sit in the background as observers?

If they were to contribute, there would be a blurring of management lines.

You are the gatekeeper to the trustees and contacts with staff must be handled through you. The last thing you want is a trustee asking: "What does Robert think?"

There may be occasions when you want some members of staff to make a contribution. You might be presenting a new marketing plan and having the marketing team along would be very positive. However, if you do that you have to be quite clear that they are providing information and do not take part in the decision-making process.

There is a serious legal point here. In commercial law, anyone who has been involved in a discussion on a particular board matter and who could have helped influence a decision may be regarded as a shadow director, even though they have no formal position as a director. This is an issue that Acevo is discussing with the Charity Commission because it affects the role of chief executives. It is ironic that there is a debate about whether chief executives should have a seat on the board, when under Company Law they are regarded as shadow directors anyway.

However, the aspiration of junior staff to be involved in the direction of the organisation is potentially helpful. What message are they giving with this request? We all want to ensure staff generally have a good understanding of the purpose and direction of the organisation.

Personally, though, I doubt that attending a board meeting and sitting at the back will do anything other than promote boredom and frustration - so don't do it!

Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send your questions to: stephen.bubb@haynet.com.

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