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Advice from Outside the Square

Revitalize Your Indigenous Corporation’s Board

Revitalize Your Indigenous Corporation’s Board

I have consulted to many Indigenous Corporation Boards on a multitude of matters from governance to decision-making, strategic planning, succession planning and efficient Board processes.

One of the challenges I see these Boards face is that many of their members sit on several different Boards at the same time. Apart from potential conflicts of interest that may arise, this means that many Board members are used to bringing the same Board cultures into each different Board meeting.

This leads to staleness, and all meetings start to look the same.

This has long-term and pervasive negative consequences for the Boards they serve. Sometimes, they become passive through tiredness, being on so many stressful and important Boards. Respectfully, some of these people may have even stopped working hard or conscientiously.

Other members don’t apply the very different objectives of each Corporation into their separate Board roles. No matter which Corporation meeting they attend, they ask the same questions, they make the same responses, and they make the same decisions.

So, how can you make your Board wake up and act and behave and govern differently within your Corporation?

First, I believe you need to re-examine your Corporation’s vision and mission.

I would do this “off” Board meeting, with perhaps the CEO, some senior staff and the Chairperson.

Validate the vision and mission – has it changed? Has it evolved? Even if you think the vision and mission have not changed, are the objectives aligned with it still the same?

At the very least, re-examine the key objectives of your Corporation today. Ensure that the team reviewing the vision and mission feel that they have “recaptured” the essence and excitement of why your organisation is actually in existence.

Once you are, again, clear about your vision and mission, present this to the Board with a view to working the Board towards reconnecting with this new, or renewed interpretation of your vision and mission. Again, the objective is to create that “new” sense of excitement about what you are all working for.

Organise something that will help the Board reconnect with the vision and mission. For example, have them spend a day working with your management or work teams in delivering the services to your constituents and members, or produce a newsletter where each Board member provides an interview about how they would like to add value to the Corporation’s vision and mission.

Doing this review and reconnection will also have a secondary benefit – which is that the Board members can also reconnect with each other in their roles within this particular organisation.

Second, once you have the Board enthusiastic again, start a discussion about succession-planning and look at formal procedures around Board reviews.

There are a number of things that can be discussed during this step – the type of skills and life-experiences and diversity that your Board could benefit from; the implementation of term limits; the qualities of decision-making and meeting behaviour.

Where necessary, some of your decisions may lead to constitutional changes – where these have the objective of good succession and keeping the Board fresh.

Formal Board reviews are sensible processes. These could be simple self-assessment questionnaires, accompanied by some honest discussion over “de-identified” comments. The objective is not to point the finger at people but to recognise improvement opportunities and then to adopt plans (that may include training or mentoring) to remove weaknesses.

Succession plans are also an important initiative in keeping Boards fresh. Look to involve younger people in public meetings, create a youth sub-committee as a reference group, identify promising young people and give them specific tasks to help the Board find information or make decisions.

Third, consider creating portfolios or interest areas and allocating Board members to these. Different Board members may have different interests. Ask them what might interest them and appoint them a portfolio so that they can lead the way in instituting reviews and reform of various Board agenda topics. Often peoples’ experience and skills are not utilised within a formal Board meeting where they can only respond to a paper put in front of them – if they are given the responsibility of researching the topics that come forward, they can use their skills to do so.

Finally, check and rebalance work.

Most Boards are made up of people who feel the responsibility to work for their people, so they accept Directorships on many Corporations. Within the Board, some people just accept all responsibilities.

These are the types who become jaded, and while they may continue to work hard, the returns from their work start to reduce.

Recognise this, and rebalance workloads within your Board. Change roles like Chair, Deputy Chair, Secretary and Treasurer periodically. Letting more people have a go not only rebalances workload, it also gives other people experience in those roles.

In summary, the above are only 4 ways in which you can revitalise your Board and its members. Depending on your individual situation there may be others. What you want is a Board comprosed of enthusiastic members who have time and energy to think straight, believe in the work that you do, and can grow from the experience.

If you would like to discuss your Board’s situation please do not hesitate to contact me. Just go to otsmanagement.com.au and click on the “Contact Us” link.

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