Why Join A Board ?

Written in September / Posted Nov 11

This weekend I’ve been on a Board retreat working with 12 long-standing board members of one established organisation and then went off to assess whether I wanted to accept an invitation to join a fledgling board of another new theatre company.  So I was spending 6 hours thinking about what makes a good board member, and then 2 hours trying to decide whether I liked a new group of people  and could be a useful addition.  I thought I’d share my thoughts in case its useful to existing Boards, those who serve/manage them, or to new fledgling companies.

We were wonderfully challenged by a facilitator at the first board retreat to enter a thinking environment and most importantly to bring attention to each other,  be easy and open with each other (and honest), and to use the time to listen, speak thoughts, and address a key question – What do I think makes a successful Board (and board member)- and here was my list created with another member.  See how you and your Board score…and what would you prioritise.

Group and individual respect; A balance of skills, respected by each other; an understanding of the business (or an essential part of the show business); A willingness to get involved, not interfere, but to be used by the management;  No ego; Willing to assess risk and not to be risk averse; A desire to get to know the whole team (staff, volunteers, creatives);  To like each other, or at least comfortable to be open with each other;  You accept that each person speaks a different language – the language of finance, or legal, or theatre, or education, or funding agency – and a wish to develop a suitable babel fish/translation together so we each understand more of the others lingo;  Time; A wish to see the work, and be seen to see the work; Be an advocate, and ideally having a good address book so you can share your enthusiasm with particularly useful people.

And then came some incredibly powerful key words from around the board retreat table – selflessness, humility, passion (for the work, or at the least real respect for the people who passionately create the work), Respect,  Hearing (not just listening to other’s views),  “Animate not Dominate”, Bravery.

I went from this very formal structured environment to the fledgling meeting where I needed to see whether I felt I could be useful, along with a highly respected theatre director also invited to join.  I was deeply impressed.  It was informal but structured.  It was animated. There was a collective passion and enormous expressed respect for the work and the founding creatives of that work.  There was no chair, or need for a chair because everyone was respectful and hearing – an almost natural thinking environment.  I could see a skills gap I could help to fill (even if I will almost double the average age of the board !!). I could sense their passion, and could see already that other highly regarded theatre practitioners and funding bodies had spotted (and supported) this fledgling company.

So why join a Board – for me its three things – a belief in and respect for the passion and skill of the key people involved;  a feeling that they (or we) can create necessary theatre – which can change lives;   an understanding of what I can do personally to help.

I’m in, I’ve signed my Companies House form, and now I’d better start reading some budgets, plays, vision documents, and background to see how I can actually help Metta Theatre.  Thanks for inviting me, and thanks for the tea and fantastic brie at lunchtime.