Elizabeth Balgobin: Get angry by all means, but put the anger to good use

Whether your board needs to diversify, tackle poor management or stop delaying decisions, the time to act is now, writes our columnist

Trustees should challenge themselves to tackle their five most anger-inducing issues, writes Elizabeth Balgobin
Trustees should challenge themselves to tackle their five most anger-inducing issues, writes Elizabeth Balgobin

I have been lucky enough to have had two lovely outings with two brilliant men recently. Both made me think about the importance of balance on a charity's board and the politics of how it votes.

After my trip to the marvellous production of Twelve Angry Men at London's Garrick Theatre, the friend I was with spent the post-theatre drink talking about how many of the different character traits we had just witnessed were taken by him into board and other management meetings. A lot of his meetings are, as in the play, full of white men.

Outing number two was a trip with my nephew to Manchester's People's History Museum, which provides a useful reminder that real people fought for our right to vote. Our post-visit discussion centred on the fact that the battle for the ballot was for a long time a male endeavour, despite the arguments put forward by Mary Wollstonecraft in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792.

But it's not just about angry white men. I have come across boards made up entirely of 12 very angry women or 12 angry people of colour, and boards with no anger at all. Anger is normal, useful. It is an emotional response to a sense of being offended, wronged, ignored or denied - a response to your boundaries being breached. A lot of our sector exists to repair those boundaries, right those wrongs, fix the offence, hear the ignored and make reparation for the denials. On the board, anger is perhaps a little less useful when you are not willing to take control of it and express in reasonable terms what you think is wrong and how it can be remedied.

You might have had an awayday recently or be planning one for the allegedly quieter summer months. Have you ever held an awayday just to clear the air of all of the issues built up over the previous year? Have you held one where you re-examine the way the board conducts its business and allow all the politics to be put aside? Or perhaps you have held one where you address the gender, ethnic, even age imbalance in the board's make-up?

Whatever you're discussing - and I know May Day will have passed by the time you read this - I call on you to get angry in May. Get angry about complacency on your boards, get angry about unfair practices in your organisations, get angry that your cause is being hampered by poor trusteeship and management. Allow yourselves 10 minutes of feeling justifiably angry, 10 minutes to hear the anger of your colleagues. Allow yourselves 10 minutes to reflect on whether you share the same anger for the same things.

There will probably be a number of shared things, and I will offer a free 10-minute consultation to any board that does not find anything in common at all. Then put your anger to use. Find a solution, or at least a pathway to a solution, for your top five anger-inducing issues. If it is that one board member never comes to meetings and you have been prevaricating about asking them to leave, now is the time to do it. If it is that votes appear to be rigged by corridor conversations, agree how you will ensure full involvement. If it is that your board needs younger people, get out and meet younger people and sell yourselves to them. If it is that you let your beneficiaries down by delaying decisions, pull your finger out.

Finally, now that I have taken you on a little trip around the various things that have been engaging me in my life, listen to the recent BBC Radio 4 programme on standing and have your next board meeting (angry or otherwise) without chairs.

Elizabeth Balgobin is a charity governance consultant

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