Joining a Trustee Board …reflections from the first year

I tend to blog about other people’s opinions, or events I’ve attended but rarely about myself.  I thought I might break that habit briefly as last Friday marked 12 months since I was voted on to the Board of a charity as a Trustee – the charity equivalent to a Non-Executive Director.  The world of Boards was a bit of a mystery to me before I joined one and so I thought that might also be the case for others out there.  I thought therefore that scribbling a few reflections from the first year might be of interest to a few people, so here goes…

Getting there…

Once I’d decided that I wanted to get some board experience I started by asking for help. I was given some great advice about talking to ‘Women on Boards’.  They’re a charity who work with aspiring non-exec Directors/ Trustees to support the transition to a board role.  Their Board-level CV workshop was a great chance to work out where my skill gaps were and how to transfer that ‘work CV’ into a Board-ready one.  If you’re even considering a NED/ Trustee role I’d really recommend attending one of their workshops or checking out their online content.

So long story short, I found a role I was interested in, applied and was delighted to be offered the role.

Getting stuck in…

I’m lucky that my Board offered an induction day for new Trustees.  This was a great opportunity to meet a few faces and get a sense of some of the challenges and opportunities that the Board was reviewing.  If you’re applying for this type of role I’d certainly ask the question about inductions at interview – it was a great introduction to the organisation.

Getting something back…

You get out what you put in.  How many times have we heard that?  Except in this case I think I’ve got more back, but for me it was important to remember to think about how I was developing.  I had some specific development objectives that were the reason for joining a board.  It was important to keep those in mind and keep pushing myself to focus on those.  It’s easy to get lost in the detail of the discussions but I’ve found keeping one eye on my development throughout has been helpful.

Some of the key things I’ve learnt are probably fairly transferable from executive roles but here’s a quick run down…

  • Thinking strategically is difficult for boards too sometimes – not just ex-operational managers like me.
  • A lot is done outside of the boardroom, that’s not particularly different to executive environments but is more challenging to keep up to speed when it’s not your day job.
  • Join panels/ sub-committees, often that’s where the ‘work’ is done and the Trustee Board is ratification.
  • Focus on Continuing Professional Development – just turning up isn’t enough.  WoB ran a useful ‘Interpreting Boardroom finances’ webinar which hit the spot for me.
  • Patience is a virtue! Consider the long game; strategies take time and organisations take time to change.  I joined a board at a time of real transition for the organisation, it is really exciting but takes time to see change bear fruit.  Having patience has been a test.
  • Trust and empower the executive and stay out of the detail.  It’s natural to want to get involved and support – I’ve had to work hard to bear in mind that’s not the role of the Board. 
  • If you do want to get involved with the detail then find a particular outlet.  I found it helpful to get specifically involved with something tactical outside of my Board role with the executive.
  • Spend time listening and watching how more experienced members of the board operate.  For me it’s not always about being part of every discussion, it’s back to thinking about the long game again.
  • Enjoy the experience!  I know I’m not always going to get it right – I’ve learnt much more when I haven’t!
  • Your ideas will be listened to and in my experience people often value your skills more than you do yourself.

If you’re thinking about joining a board, start those conversations right now.  It might take time to find a good fit or the right opportunity but I found the process of getting myself ready really rewarding and insightful in itself. 

I passionately believe that organisations perform better when they’re diverse and they represent the communities that they serve. I think we’re seeing that boards are more receptive than ever to bringing on members that might not fit their previous mould. For me, the best way to change an organisation is from the inside and so if you want to see your demographic – whatever that is – represented – be that change – get on the Board!

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