Focus: People Management - Coaching session with Stephen Bubb

Q: I'm a chief executive and I have a brilliant relationship with my chair, but he thinks the elected trustees are a waste of time. How do I tackle this dysfunction?

The good news is that you have a good relationship with your chair, which you can use to remedy the problem. The bad news is that it sounds like you do have a problem board. This is a fundamental problem in many sector bodies' governance arrangements.

When you have elected trustees (and many of our membership bodies do), people tend to think of themselves as representatives rather than trustees.

We've all seen the horror stories of chief executives who try to achieve major change being resisted by trustees who pursue sectional or regional interests. So what do you do?

Have a meal

First, you must take your chair out for a superb dinner and persuade him that this is an issue you both have to tackle. While you're there, persuade him to have a governance review.

Next, get hold of the results of Acevo's governance enquiry Rethinking Governance (available from acevo.org.uk). This sets out ideas for your governance review. It recommends that all sector bodies should undertake regular reviews of governance arrangements.

You may want to recruit an external person to help you; someone who could be seen as neutral. They should interview all the trustees and get their views and opinions.

Be radical

Consider a different governance structure. You might even want to be radical and go for a unitary board that includes a number of external non-executive people as well as your elected trustees. You may even want to consider payment: the one advantage of a small payment is that you can legitimately expect good behaviour in return. In other words, if they are going to be paid, they have to turn up to a training event and sign a code of conduct.

Consider setting up an annual appraisal scheme for every trustee. And you will certainly want to think about drawing up a code that sets out the responsibilities of trustees. Working with the Governance Hub, Acevo produced a model governance code recently - it's worth looking at it.

Finally, I would strongly suggest a package of training and development.

Get a good speaker to talk about the role of a trustee. You might start by taking trustees off to a strategic awayday, where you can talk about how their role might develop. But you're going to have to make sure your chair is totally committed to making this work effectively.

- 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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