What are the hallmarks of effective boards?

Maggie Galliers, 01 June 2023

The NHF Board had our away day last month which focused, among other things, on the Chairs’ Challenge from the EDI toolkit. The materials were thought-provoking and action centred.

As well as guiding us to create a plan for future improvement in terms of EDI, they also led us to consider, more generally, what we wanted our culture to be and how we could be most effective. This is something that we have agreed to explore further at our next away day: in the meantime I have been reflecting on the hallmarks of effective boards.

Thinking about the boards of which I have been a member or chair has led me to conclude that there are some universal principles that inform good governance and leadership. These include:

  • Understanding the difference between governance and management; recognising those boundaries and respecting that it is management’s job to initiate and implement while the board’s is to appraise and monitor.
  • A relentless focus on ‘what/who we are here for?’, our social purpose, vision, mission and charitable objects.
  • An inclusive culture which promotes trust, understanding, support and challenge.
  • Having the right evidence and data to inform decision making.
  • A willingness to evaluate our own individual and collective performance, as well as that of the organisation, to ensure we are really at the top of our game.

Alongside this are a set of underpinning enablers such as high-quality governance support from the Clerk or Company Secretary; timely, well-presented and succinct papers for meetings; a supporting framework of regular meetings between the chair and CEO; carefully thought through schemes of delegation; and a shared approach to agenda setting. Paying attention to getting these right can make all the difference to how smoothly business is conducted and to the amount of value board members can add.

Of course, the individual skills, personalities, and behaviours of the chair, members and executive will give different boards their own flavour, but ultimately those which have the right balance between support, scrutiny, stewardship and stretch will always be the most effective.

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