Effective governance requires effective team work: governors/trustees as colleagues working collaboratively to achieve a goal underpinned by a solid understanding and respect for each other’s roles and circumstances.
This week, NGA has published a guide to governing boards working effectively as a team. It provides advice on constructing an effective team dynamic and how to respond when relationships and team working is not what it should be. It is consistent with the key messages given in the fifth edition of What governing boards and school leaders should expect from each other, guidance produced by a collaboration of leading education sector organisations, which aims to improve the effectiveness of governance by developing mutually supportive and respectful working practices.
The guide can be deployed as a practical tool as it provides useful tips and strategies for building and maintaining relationships within the governing board. We encourage governors and trustees to refer to it when reflecting on the dynamics which influence their board, from personality types to outlooks, and consider their implications, including areas for improvement.
The guide stresses that most important principle for effective collaborative working is a clear and shared understanding of the board’s role and remit. If this clear and shared understanding does not exist throughout the board, then confusion and tension is more likely to occur. For example, over what constitutes the strategic role of the governing board, what can and should be delegated and the role of parent and staff governors in particular, i.e. them being representative of their stakeholder group rather than representing them directly.
The guide emphasises the importance of having a diverse range of backgrounds, experience and perspectives around the governing table. By recruiting volunteers with different backgrounds and experiences, the board facilitates a range of voices rather than group think. Embracing this means engaging with different views and navigating them in order to achieve a consensus that works in the best interests of the school of the trust.
The leadership and support that the governing board receives through the chair and the clerk is extremely important when it comes to strengthening the team dynamic. If the chair leads by example, models and encourages efficient and respectful working practices, then it is more likely that the rest of the board will follow. At the same time having a confident and efficient clerk who knows the rules, procedures and what needs to be done, helps to strengthen the team dynamic by instilling confidence and modelling professional behaviour to the board. It is therefore important that both the chair and clerk are supported and encouraged to maintain their professional development, develop their skills and knowledge and build capacity to carry out their roles effectively.
People are people and, as many of those governing will know, tensions and even conflict can still arise occur within a governing board despite the best of intentions. When it does, the guide advocates that a measured and conciliatory approach is taken to resolving issues. The approach should be empathetic and mindful of how people feel and are likely to react. The focus should always be on what is in the best interests of the board and by extension the school/trust and its pupils. So be open-minded, embrace compromise but act decisively and use procedures as necessary to protect working relationships and the integrity of the board.
Trust Governance Specialist and South West Regional Officer
Michael specialises in trust governance, co-ordinating NGA's work with multi-academy trusts and producing tailored resources. He also leads NGA's work in the West Midlands, working closely with the region's trusts and local authorities.