There is an interesting article in this week’s Third Sector magazine which debates whether members of senior management teams should attend meetings of Trustees / Boards of Management.
Valerie Morton writes: “Some actively encourage senior staff to attend. Others go to the opposite extreme and have only the chief executive in attendance, and even then not at every meeting. The middle ground is for senior staff to be invited to present specific agenda items”.
At BHT, other than when it is considering sensitive commercial or personnel matters, we have an ‘open’ approach to Board meetings. Not only is there an expectation that senior managers attend, there is an open invitation to all members of staff to attend. Copies of Board papers are made available to staff before the meeting through the BHT Unison group. Like the tide, attendance ebbs and flows. Last year, when we undertook a contentious resetting of salaries and terms & conditions, attendance increased.
The benefit of wider attendance is to allow members of staff (and in the case of BHT, the recognised trade union) to be exposed to wider views, perhaps one could call it the ‘mood music’, that lies behind contentious decisions. Formal consultation meetings are important, but it is helpful if there is a wider audience who can understand how decision evolve, rather than merely hearing or reading about a stark decision.
Where misunderstandings can occur is when a member of staff comes for just one meeting, hears an individual Board member express and opinion, and goes away believing that is representative of the Board or, even, that individual’s views. That is why regular attendance is a good thing.
Sometime new Board members express surprise when 15 or 20 members of staff arrive at the start of a meeting. Most Board members realise that having ‘an audience’ will ensure that a more informed debate on issues can be held within the organisation.
Board and Trustee meetings are the forums for formal decisions to be made, but often it is where the ethos of an organisation is entrusted. I know that Board members at BHT found the recommendations I brought to them personally very difficult to decide on. Our Board members are unpaid, and generously give of their time because they believe in what BHT stands for and the services we deliver.
I don’t envy their role, and anyone who watches the BHT Board in action over a period of time will appreciate the integrity that they bring to their office.