What makes Chairs of Third Sector Governing Bodies Effective?

Softer inter-personal and leadership skills are seen as the most important qualities that distinguish effective from less effective chairs of the boards of Third Sector organisations.

This is one of the key findings in research lead by Chris Cornforth, Professor of Organisational Governance and Management at the Open University Business School, entitled What makes Chairs of Governing Bodies Effective? The research is reported by the Open University.

According to the Open University, the study also revealed that effective chairs were seen as “fair, open to ideas, focused on building high quality relationships, and encouraging team work.”

Those that were seen as the least effective were not regarded as team players and were unable to manage inadequate performance by key members of the organisation.

Chris said: “The research focuses on the roles of chairs of governing bodies to look at their impact on the effectiveness of the board, the organisation and the chief executive.

“What are the factors that influence whether someone was seen as an effective chair? Certain characteristics such as social awareness, being able to work as a team leader, build high quality relationships with those they work with and being able to develop the board as a team were seen as very important.”

However, the research revealed that chairs tended to rate their own impact more highly than did chief executives, board members and other key stakeholders.

Chris said that this could be a problem if the gap became too large with chairs thinking they were performing well, whereas other members of the organisation had a much lower opinion.

Therefore, he said it was important for chairs to have an annual “360 degree appraisal”, at which board members and senior staff have the opportunity to feedback on the chair’s performance.

The report also suggested chairs could benefit from regular informal feedback from board members and the chief executive, asking opinions about how well board meetings were managed and whether issues could have been better handled.

It also revealed that the further a stakeholder is from the chair, the lower they are likely to perceive his or her impact, which is likely to be true of boards more generally.

One means of addressing this is to develop a communications strategy that keeps key stakeholders informed of the work of the board and the key issues it is addressing.

Finally, the report concluded chairs and prospective chairs need the opportunity for training and development and to keep up with important developments in their field and to improve their chairing and leadership skills.

The research was carried out with the support of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Charity Trustee Network.

Chris added: “The boundaries between the sectors are now incredibly blurred. You have people sitting on the boards from all three sectors and you are seeing things from a range of perspectives.

“Increasingly Third Sector organisations are having to work in partnership with the public and private sectors, with the interchange of ideas and practices all the way down from the board to staff levels.”

Download the research report What makes Chairs of Governing Bodies Effective? here.

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