Category Archives: Meetings

Governance matters in Festival of Education Part 2

This year’s Festival of Education had sessions which would have been of interest to governors. I have previously written about my session with National Schools Commissioner, Dominic Herrington. Below is a short account of some other sessions I was able to attend.

Ruth Agnew’s session was on “Effective Governor Challenge”. Ruth started by making the point that welcoming and enabling effective challenge is an aspiration and asked how if people welcome challenge. Good, professional relationships are important in schools. Too much trust and friendly relationship can hinder challenge. Ruth then talked about why and how schools start to decline. She said that problems start when processes to ensure accountability start to falter (lack of skills and training, too trusting a relationship, misplaced loyalty, too reliant on head for information, governors not acting strategically, etc). Ruth said that she had not found a better resource of what effective governors do than the “Learning from the Best” Ofsted report. Ruth said none of the things mentioned in the report are rocket science! Ruth mentioned that sometimes heads model the questions governors should be asking. She thought this isn’t necessarily a problem but it must not become the default. Ruth also encouraged us to think how we frame our questions. “How did we do in SATs this year” is better if it’s framed as “What do these results tell us about us meeting our objectives for this cohort”. Ruth said challenge isn’t lobbing questions like tennis balls at the school leaders. We shouldn’t be using checklists. Instead, we need to look at things with fresh eyes and then if we find an issue Ruth wants us to be like a dog with a bone!

Dr Kate Chhatwal spoke about accountability and peer reviews. According to Kate, the advantages of a peer review system are:

  • We don’t need permission to take part in peer reviews
  • It works with top performing schools as well as those needing support
  • It allows identification and sharing of excellence

Kate talked about how Challenge Partners conduct peer review. The important point is that this is “doing with and not doing to”. Challenge Partners are also doing MAT reviews but they don’t have a strict framework for this as MATs are still in their infancy. They start with a simple question, “What is the MAT doing to ensure the children it serves achieve better than they might otherwise, and is it working?”. This was a very interesting session and I think as time passes peer reviews may become more important. I completely agreed with Kate when she said that you are a system leader only if you care for the children beyond your own institution.

The session by Katie Paxton-Dogget and Tara Paxton-Dogget was titled “Matchmaking for academies”. Katie started by saying that more and more schools are joining or forming multi-academy trusts (MATs). As Labour hasn’t said they will return schools to local authority control, even if there is an election and we have new inhabitants in Sanctuary Building, finding a good MAT will be important for many schools. Katie explained the difference between academies and maintained schools. She said when people say autonomy is lost upon joining a MAT, they should be asked about the level of autonomy maintained schools have. Katie went on to the discussions governors should have when they are considering joining a MAT.

  • Revisit your vision and ethos. You should be looking at MATs which share your ethos
  • Consider what type of MAT you want to join
  • Think about geographical location of your school and other schools in the MAT

Tara made the point that as in human relationships, even if partners have differences as long as they share values the relationship can thrive. Tara’s school had recently become part of a MAT. She said that as far as students were concerned they hadn’t noticed any striking changes. There was more contact between students now which she thought was a good thing to have come out of being part of the MAT. It was good to hear from a student too, especially one as articulate as Tara.

The other session I attended was by Andy Guest on, “Is our model of school governance broken?” Andy started by asking posing the question, “If you started with a blank page, would you design what we currently have?” Andy also made the case for simplifying things by

  • Committing to either academisation or reverting to LA as having both isn’t working
  • Creating a simpler quality/compliance/value for money framework
  • Committing to a capability model across the system and be honest about the role of stakeholder engagement

Andy was of the opinion that governance has to change if we want an equitable and sustainable school system

There was a lot to think about in this session and I’m sure these conversations will continue.

Links to Wakelets (collated tweets) from some of the sessions I attended are given below;

What if we were accountable to each other? Unlocking the power of school and MAT peer review (Dr Kate Chhatwal)

How can we balance trust, autonomy and accountability in the system? Panel discussion at Festival of Education 2019 (Becky Allen, Ben Newmark, Carolyn Roberts, Sean Harford, Naureen Khalid)

Lord Agnew’s Keynote at Festival of Education 2019

Keynote by Amanda Spielman HMCI at Festival of Education 2019

Ofsted’s new Education Inspection Framework (Sean Harford, Matthew Purves and Paul Joyce)

Doug Lemov at Festival of Education 2019

Driver Youth Trust at Festival of Education 2019

I would recommend governors attend the Festival in 2020. I am sure the organisers will have sessions around governance again. Other sessions are useful too as they are on various other aspects of education which governors may want to know more about. Dates for 2020 have been announced (18th -10th June 2020). The organisers are offering a 40% launch discount and there is a special rate for governors (£45 for a day ticket, £59 for both days).

 

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Relationships between Charity Boards and Executive Teams Matter

 

On 6th February 2019 I attended an event “Building a Strong Relationships between Charity Boards and Executive Teams” organised by the consultancy and advisory firm, Gallanach. I found out about this event through Mike Bath. Mike and I follow each other on twitter and often discuss school/academy finance and governance. As academies are charities, the discussions during the evening are directly related to academy trustees and school leaders but as the discussion focused on governance it is also applicable to maintained school governance. For this reason, in this post, I will be using “governors” rather than trustees when I talk about school governance.

The event had presentations from Ian Joseph, Managing Director Russam GBS and Trustee of Kidscape and Sarah MaGuire, CEO Partnership Support Group. The evening was facilitated by Norman Blissett (Director, Gallanach). There was discussion around lots of areas affecting governance, most of which I have tried to capture below. I have then tried to relate them to school governance.

Roles of the board and the executive:

Norman started the evening off by talking about the role of the board and the executive. According to Norman, it is essential that there is a mutual understanding of roles of the board and the executive. Norman outlined the role of the board which he said was to

  • Set the vision and values of the organisation
  • Set the strategy of the organisation
  • Delegate functions to the executive
  • Be accountable to stakeholders

Department for Education has defined three core roles of governors in the Governance handbook. These are

  • Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction;
  • Holding executive leaders to account for the educational performance of the organisation and its pupils, and the performance management of staff; and
  • Overseeing the financial performance of the organisation and making sure its money is well spent.

The National Governance Organisation, NGA, has been discussing adding a fourth duty to the above three, that of accountability to stakeholders. Emma Knights, their CEO, has written about this here. There has been some debate around this with some feeling that performing the three core functions well entails being accountable to stakeholders. Others feel that ensuring decisions taken by the board take into account the views of stakeholders (parents, pupils, staff, and community) should be explicit and that can be done by making it the fourth core function. This is an important discussion and one we must have.

Norman also emphasised the need for everyone to understand that there is a fine line between scrutiny and management and Sarah touched upon the operational and strategic roles. This is something that we, as school governors absolutely must understand. This is one of the reasons training/CPD, especially for those new to school governance, is so important. Sarah also talked about how if the CEO brings too much detail to the board the difference between the strategic and operational may get blurred. She also mentioned that trustees sometimes can focus too much attention on things they do in their day jobs. She has noticed this especially from trustees who come from finance or HR background. This can lead to discussion becoming more operational. Too much time spent discussion things which you do in your day job also means that the rest of the items on the agenda don’t get the time they deserve.

Ian talked about the absolute importance of having clarity around roles. He touched upon the roles of the chair of the board and the CEO, more on that later on.

Transparency:

Norman talked about the importance of having a “culture of candour”. Everyone in the boardroom should be prepared to challenge and be challenged. Problems should be tackled immediately but trustees need to be able to spot these. If there is an occasion where a question from a trustee is brushed aside then Norman says that should raise a red flag. This is something which the Chair may need to explore, perhaps outside of the meeting. Norman also said that trustees should have open access to the organisation.

Ian agreed that transparency is hugely important. He made the point that there should be no nasty surprises for trustees. The executive needs to be open and upfront with the board so problems can be looked at in a timely manner and solutions found.

This is something which we as governors and school leaders need to understand too. As governors, think about what happens when you ask for information. Are you getting so much information that you can’t see the wood for the trees and is that because something is being hidden from you in open sight? Or are you not getting enough information and is that perhaps because things are not going as well as they should? Transparency isn’t only for the boardroom. One of the Nolan Principles is Openness (Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.) Are your minutes easily accessible? Do you publish your minutes on your school website? Do you take care in deciding which part of the discussion should be declared confidential? As far as open access is concerned, yes, governors need to be able to come into school to carry out their monitoring role but they should remember that the organisation is a after all a school and our monitoring should not disrupt education. Transparency also means that we should inform the head that we are coming in and why. Transparency from all sides fosters trust and is essential for good relationships.

Chair and CEO relationship:

A good Chair/CEO relationship is a feature of an effective board. Norman said there needs to high challenge as well as high support. Relationships need time and effort put into them. Norman suggested that it’s a good idea for the Chair and CEO to spend time together, both formally and informally.

Ian agreed that this is an important relationship. He said it’s essential that both the Chair and the CEO understand their respective roles. The role of the Chair is to lead the board and the job of the CEO is to run the charity and deliver its objectives. The Chair and CEO relationship needs to be based on mutual respect. The Chair should be a professional of equal standing which promotes respect for each other.

As in any other form of governance, the relationship between the Chair and the head of school/trust is a very important one. Chairs and heads should make time to meet each other regularly. The head should also know that he/she can contact the chair at any time should they need to. Being the head of a school can be a lonely job and the head should know they can rely on their chair for support. It’s also important to remember that this relationship needs to be professional at all times. If there is a perception that the relationship between the head and chair is cosy that can lead to problems. NGA has published numerous guides which are useful for chairs of governing bodies. Professor Chris James, Bath University, has conducted research into various aspects of school governance. Here he talks about his study to examine the workings of private sector boards to see if there are any lessons or messages for school governing bodies as far as the head/chair relationship is concerned. If you are a chair and need some help/support/advice then National Leaders of Governance (NLGs) will be able to provide you with that.

All about beneficiaries:

Everyone who spoke at the event was clear that the charity, the board and the executive should be clear that everything they do has to be for the benefit of their beneficiaries. Norman talked about the importance of the board and the executive having a shared idea of the purpose of the organisation. Obviously, for schools the purpose is to provide a good education to children and this is something the board and the executive will agree on and share. What does need to be agreed and shared is the vision and ethos of the school which will drive how education is delivered to the children.

Ian was very clear about the need for both the board and executive to be clear that they are thee for the benefit of the beneficiaries of the charity.

Sarah talked about this too. She thought it was important that the trustees knew the issues faced by the beneficiaries so that they could tailor the work of the board accordingly.

Board composition:

Sarah made a point during her presentation that the board discussion can sometimes suffer if the trustees have the same or similar skills. For example, she has noticed that in boards where most of the members have a financial or HR background, then most of the discussion tends to focus around these areas and very little time is given to discussing things outside of their comfort zone. This is why boards need a wide variety of skills.

In response to a question from the floor about diversity, Ian said that diversity is important. What is also important is to think very carefully about this. A BAME, with a PhD from Oxford who listens to Radio 4 may not be bringing the diversity which you are looking for. I made the point that this must be more than a token gesture and that people still need to feel valued and not feel they are there to tick boxes.

Ian said that people should not join boards because it looks good on their CV but at the same time we should be encouraging more people to join by emphasising the skills they will pick up by being on a board. Another member of the audience said that his board has started appointing what they term “apprentice trustees” who participate fully in board discussions. It is hoped that this way they can see how the board works and perhaps then join as trustees.

The problem of finding people willing to serve as governors is one which may school governing bodies face too. Those schools which would benefit from strong governing bodies are the ones who find it harder to recruit people.

During the panel session, I asked if it’s appropriate for the CEO to choose trustees. The panel members and audience thought that the CEO should not appoint trustees and although it’s a good idea for a prospective trustee to meet with the CEO, this must be for the benefit of the trustee and not the CEO.

Meetings, planning, appraisal:

Sarah talked about the importance of well planned meetings. Good preparation for a meeting involves thinking carefully about the agenda and making sure what goes into the papers is well thought about. This is essential for school governors too. The Chair, head and the clerk should work closely on this. They should ensure that the papers go out at least seven days before the meeting with the expectation that everyone would have read them before the meeting.

Discussions during the meeting should be sharp and focused. Sarah asked trustees to think about the impact their discussions would have on the beneficiaries. If you can’t identify an impact then ask yourself why you are meeting. Again, this is something we as governors need to ask ourselves; will tonight’s meeting have an effect on the education of our children. It is important here to say something about the headteacher’s report too. Make sure your head knows what information you need and in which format. The head’s report is the vehicle by which the head can give governors the information they need. The content of the report should be driven by what the governors need.

The matter of away days came under discussion too. It was suggested that these days are a good way to discuss matters, re-visit and understand the purpose of the organisation and build relationships. There should be days when the executive and the board can meet away from the boardroom. There should also be opportunities for the board members to meet each other away from the boardroom. I know may governing bodies do do this and I think it is an effective way for discussion issues outside of meetings. These away days should still be focused so as to make best use of everyone’s time.

Sarah touched upon appraisal during her presentation. She said it would be a good idea for trustees to have a one to one conversation with the chair/CEO so that they can understand why the trustee joined the board. Sarah also thought that a light touch appraisal of trustees by the chair with input from the CEO was also a good idea.

Qualities of a good trustee:

Norman ended the event by asking Ian and Sarah what they thought were good qualities to have in a trustee. Sarah’s top five were

  • Willingness to listen
  • Willingness to be open
  • Willingness to push executive
  • Being very clear what the link is to the beneficiaries
  • Willingness to get involved

Ian added three more

  • Laser like focus on beneficiaries
  • Common sense
  • Being able to ask questions

All in all this was a really enjoyable event for me and I am sure for everyone else who attended. I found it very useful to listen and interact with people involved with governance who work in sectors other than schools.

All I want for Christmas …… are governance things that matter

As Christmas is fast approaching this is a seasonal blog but with a message. The link to Christmas maybe a bit tenuous but I hope you will enjoy it nevertheless.

On the first day of Christmas my governing body sent to me an induction package.

New governors need support to understand the role and their responsibilities. One way we can do this is by having a good induction programme in place. I have previously written about induction for new governors.

On the second day of Christmas my governing body sent to me a subscription to online training.

Professional development is important for new governors as well as those who have been on the governing body for some time. Training ensures that we remain effective. Governors may find online training fits in better with their day jobs and home life. Governing bodies should investigate if their members would prefer online training. My previous blogs discussing training are here, here and here.

On the third day of Christmas my governing body sent to me contact details of my mentor.

One way a governing body can help a new governor understand the role is by asking an experienced governor to act as a mentor. This will help ease the new person into the role. They may feel more comfortable asking questions/clarifications outside of meetings.

On the fourth day of Christmas my governing body sent to me a governor expenses policy.

Governors are volunteers and paying them to carry out their duties is not allowed.However, they are allowed to claim legitimate expenses such as photocopying costs, childcare expenses etc. Governing bodies should have a Governor Expense Policy in place. Having a policy in place and governors being clear that that no individual should be prevented from becoming a governor or carrying out their duties because of expenses incurred doing so is important as it ensures that the governing body is inclusive.

On the fifth day of Christmas my boss told me how much time I could have off for governance.

Employees can get time off work for certain public duties as well as their normal holiday entitlement. Governance falls into this category. Employers can choose to pay them for this time, but they don’t have to. We should make sure our governors know this. We should also try and encourage employers to make it as easy as possible for their employees to carry out their governance duties.

On the sixth day of Christmas my governing body sent to me the bio of our new, young governor.

Younger people continue to be underrepresented in school governance. The graph is taken from School Governance in 2018, a report of the annual survey by the NGA in association with Tes.

Having younger people on governing bodies means we get a different perspective and the young people who join us get valuable experience.

On the seventh day of Christmas my governing body sent to me news of the appointment of an independent, professional clerk.

A good clerk is pivotal in ensuring that the governing body is as effective as it can be. It is true that good schools will have good governing bodies. It is, I think, equally true that good governing bodies have good clerks. It is considered best practice to have independent and professional clerks. Having school staff clerk governing body meetings can give rise to conflicts of interest so is best avoided. We must also realise that good clerking is much, much more than minute taking. The clerk should be able to advise the chair on matters of governance and help ensure that the governing body works in an efficient and effective manner.

On the eighth day of Christmas my governing body sent to me a protocol for virtual meetings.

Governing bodies are allowed to meet virtually, via Skype, for instance. This is a good way to involve people who may find it hard to get to the meeting on time. It can also help where the governing body is discussing something of an urgent but important nature and one or more governors cannot get to the meeting. I would recommend that the governing body agrees a protocol for this.

On the ninth day of Christmas my governing body sent to me papers well in advance of the meeting.

In order to have an effective meeting, it is essential that governors are sent papers to be considered at the meeting well in advance. This allows them to study them and come prepared to the meeting. We all should take responsibility for this. Reports which have been requested from the school should be sent out on time. If governors are writing a report, they too should ensure that it goes out on time.

On the tenth day of Christmas my governing body sent to me a promise that meetings would run to time.

Everyone’s time is precious. Heads, SLT and governors would either have put in a whole day’s work before coming to the meeting or will be heading to work after the meeting ends. In both cases it’s important that the meeting runs to time. There is also the fact that if the meeting is a very long one then concentration may start to wane. If the discussion goes on and on then chances are that its going around in circles. The role of the chair is very important. The chair should ensure that everyone stays on topic and that the discussions are sharp and focused. Timed agendas are one way of trying to keep to time.

On the eleventh day of Christmas I met a head who understands governance.

The vast majority of heads do understand governance and the important role played by governors and they work with them to bring about school improvement. They understand that one of the roles of governors is to provide challenge.These heads relish these opportunities to show the work being done by them and their teams. But there are a few heads who think in terms of us and them. When a head understands governance and when the governing body understands the role of the head then they work well together and the children benefit. The National Governance Association (NGA), the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and the Local Government Association (LGA) collaborated to produce a guidance document on what do school leaders and governing boards expect of each other which is well worth a read. The National College(as it was then) had also produced a resource, Working effectively with a Governing Body.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me the Ofsted myth busting document.

There are lots of myths around how many governors (and which ones) can meet inspectors during an inspection, who is allowed to attend the feedback meeting and who is allowed to see the draft inspection report. Ofsted has helpfully published a myth busting document addressing all these myths. Have a look also at two of my blogs where I’ve talked about Sean Harford addressing this issue. These can be accessed here and here.

What twelve  governance related gifts would you like your true love to send to you?

Maximising governance time matters; a checklist. With thanks to Aidan Severs

I recently read a very interesting article by Aidan Severs on how to maximise learning time in lessons. He gave a ten point checklist which people could use to streamline lessons. I read his checklist and thought that it could be adopted for governance. So, here goes.

1. Reduce distractions
When you’re in a governors’ meeting does it sometimes go off into tangents which have nothing to do with the topic being discussed? If this happens then, as Chair, you should try and gently bring the discussion back to the item on the agenda. This will help keep attention focused on what needs to be discussed and also stop the meeting overrunning.

2. Match activities to lesson objectives
Aidan explains why this is important in a class setting. Matching activities to governance objectives is just as important. For example, if governors carry out school visits, the reason for the visit must be clear and should feed into how we challenge and support our school leaders. Some boards find it useful to ask governors to monitor specific areas or classes. Others align the visits to specific areas of the school development plan. Which ever way you do it, you should ensure that these activities lead to maximum understanding of how the school is performing.

3. Intelligent sequencing
Match your meeting agenda to what happens in schools. Discussion of exam results and finances/budgets should happen at particular times of the year. Also give some thought to the order in which you want to cover the various items.

4. Lesson structure
Aidan says lessons should be organised in a way which will make the most use of the available time. For board meetings structure of the meeting is of similar importance. Plan the agenda well in advance. Seek input from the head. Your clerk’s help is invaluable in drawing up the agenda. They will help ensure nothing of importance is left off the agenda. Decide how much time each item should be allocated to each item on the agenda. If you have invited a staff member who usually doesn’t attend your meetings, then try and put the item to which they would be contributing at the top of the agenda and once that’s been dealt with let them leave.

5. Scaffolding and differentiation
Aidan talks about how teachers can structure lessons so each child’s learning is maximised. This made me think of governors who have just joined the board. Though not scaffolding in the sense that Aidan was talking about, but we, especially chairs, can take steps to ensure that the new governor understands what’s being discussed. First and foremost, if your new governor is from a field other than education then do make sure they have a glossary of terms which they’ll come across. For someone who has not worked in schools terms like SDP, AfL, DSL, EBacc, FFT, FSM etc will mean nothing. They may not feel confident enough to ask what these terms stand for so it’s a good idea to provide a glossary to new governors.

6. Preparedness
Aidan says, “Precious learning time is often lost when teachers are less prepared than they could be.” The same could be said of our meetings; precious meeting time is often lost when governors are less prepared than they could be. The expectation that everyone would have read the papers beforehand should be made clear to all. Governors should also submit any papers they have prepared in enough time for the clerk to add them to the meeting pack which should go out seven days in advance.

7. Written instructions
I think it’s of great importance to agree and write down policies and procedures which will dictate how you conduct business. For example, procedure for electing chair/vice chair, governor monitoring visit policy, terms of reference, procedures around conducting virtual meetings, etc for your committees, etc.

8. Routines
Aidan talks about how routines can save time and hence maximise learning. Routines can also help save time during meetings so you get the maximum amounts of work done. For example, you may consider asking governors to send you/the clerk any typos or spelling mistakes in the draft minutes before the meeting so that these can be corrected and time isn’t spent on pointing these out during the meeting. You may also like to consider labelling every item on the agenda as “For discussion/For information/Requires action” etc. Once this becomes routine you may find that it saves time by focussing attention on what needs to be done.

9. Feedback
Aidan talks about in-lesson feedback to ensure that no child ends up wasting valuable learning time. Feedback is important for governors too. Consider asking your governors for feedback on how they think meetings have worked out, what has been achieved, how the chairing/clerking has helped (or not). The chair should also try and meet individual governors so they can talk about how individual governors feel about their role and what support they may need in the coming year.

10. Behaviour management
Aidan talks about how and why good behaviour maximises learning time. Good behaviour is important for good governance too. Punctuality is the first thing which comes to mind. No one likes to be kept waiting. Yes, sometimes things happen which will mean people can’t get to the meeting on time but these should be the exception rather than the norm. Chairs have an important role to play here. If you see someone dominating the conversation then make a point of asking others for their contributions. A code of conduct should be agreed and signed by all at the start of the year. It might be an idea to devote some time to discussing this at your first meeting of the year so that people understand what the code requires and how breaches, if any, will be dealt with.

Is there anything you would add to the above list?

Related blog:

Meeting matters: 3 reasons why leaders sould talk less in meetings

Meeting matters: 3 reasons why leaders should talk less in meetings

I came across an article by Brendan Reid in which he discusses why leaders should talk less during meetings. This is something people chairing governing body meetings should think about too. The article is reproduced below with Brendan’s kind permission.

 

I’ve stopped talking so much in meetings. More precisely, I’ve stopped talking first in meetings.

A while back, I was in a meeting led by another manager and I noticed something that has stuck with me ever since. This manager had a very strong presence and personality, and he was very quick to inject his opinions into a multi-person conversation. So much so, the entire dynamic of the meeting was altered by his presence. Other meeting participants seemed reluctant to contribute. Any subsequent ideas shared seemed to be based on his initial concept. It all seemed very constrained.

On the surface, a strong, vocal manager appears to demonstrate classic (stereotypical?) leadership qualities. Clear, direct, confident, intelligent. But what I observed in this meeting indicated the exact opposite to me.

Since this meeting, I’ve been extremely aware of leadership behaviors in meetings. I watch other managers. I watch myself. I observe the behaviors and reactions of meeting participants and contributors. And, I’ve ultimately concluded that most managers (myself included) are talking way too much and way too early in meetings.

In this week’s blog, we’re going to look at 3 specific leadership advantages to speaking less and waiting longer before talking in meetings.

Some of the qualities that make for good leaders – confidence, decisiveness, passion, intelligence – can have undesired consequences if you’re not careful. The very attributes responsible for the leadership opportunities you’ve been awarded can backfire if left unchecked. Do any of these scenarios sound familiar to you?

You’re in a 6-person meeting with several different personality types represented. The type “A” leader dominates the conversation and leaves the meeting feeling it went well. Everyone else leaves quiet and confused.

You’re a meeting participant and a senior executive expresses a very strong opinion early in the conversation. Others either sit quietly or jump on board with her idea trying to seem agreeable and avoid embarrassment or conflict.

You’re a leader in a meeting and you kick it off by sharing your perspective on the issue and then ask for other ideas. You ask people to challenge you. Nobody does. The team ends up aligning to your original idea with very little debate or discussion.

Two dominant personalities are in a 6-person meeting. After some initial dialogue, the entire discussion gravitates to their ideas only. In the end, the group only compares those two loudly voiced ideas and any others are forgotten about or never heard in the first place.

We’ve all been in meetings like this. I would argue they are the norm. As leaders, we want to offer direction and clarity. As contributors, we want to have our ideas heard and be viewed as strong and assertive. But what impact is that having? Are we actually leading or are we just acting like we think a leader should?

Here are 3 reasons I think leaders should speak less and wait longer to speak in meetings:

1. Inspire Creativity

When a leader speaks early and decisively in a meeting, he or she artificially constrains creativity. Put yourself in the shoes of the other meeting participants for a moment. A strong leader or manager makes a decisive argument at the beginning of the meeting and then asks for other ideas. This sets artificial constraints for everyone else. Whether you realize it or not you’ve set mental boundaries for the types of ideas now likely to be brought forward.

For example, the problem set out for a meeting is to close a gap in sales. The leader starts off with a strong idea about a new type of marketing campaign. Then he asks for other ideas from the group. The tendency now will be to build on the first idea or to suggest other ideas for marketing campaigns. Without knowing it, the leader has artificially constrained all the thinking and dialogue. What if a marketing campaign wasn’t the only way to close the sales gap? What if there are entire other lines of thinking? You’ve lost those now.

When a leader speaks assertively and early in a conversation, the other participants are more likely to align to that idea or build upon that idea. To insert a fundamentally different idea feels combative. It feels risky. You’ve inadvertently created a situation where only the strongest participants will have the courage to counter your thinking. You’ve limited creativity.

My advice to managers is to start meetings by setting the most basic context e.g. here is the problem we’re trying to solve. Then, whether you have a great idea or not, start by soliciting ideas from the group before giving an opinion. You’ll free the team up to be creative and you’ll probably end up discovering your ideas weren’t as good as you thought they were.

2.  Activate the Introverts

Most meetings are dominated by extroverts. This is not optimal because they don’t hold a monopoly on good ideas. When you start too strong in meetings, by inserting your opinions and taking strong positions on issues, you make it harder for anyone other than type “A” personalities to participate. This is a flawed strategy that reduces the number of potential ideas in any meeting you’re in.

The best managers actively solicit ideas. They pull them out of the more introverted among us. They are committed to creating an environment that feels comfortable to share ideas and opinions. Too many managers allow the loudest voices to dominate meetings which leads to suboptimal results and engagement.

My advice to managers is to start by soliciting ideas from the quieter members of your team. As an introvert, I can say I’m much more comfortable answering questions or responding to a request to share my idea than interjecting it spontaneously into a heated debate. The truth is, the extroverts will get their ideas heard one way or the other. You don’t have to worry about them. Start by proactively engaging the less vocal members of the team first and then let the others participate.

3. Reap the Benefits of Information

In a poker game, there is a huge advantage to playing your hand last. It’s called positional advantage. You have the benefit of seeing what everyone else does before you have to do anything. That information gives you a better chance to win. The exactly same principle holds true in meetings and in negotiations. There is a major advantage to waiting before acting.

When I’m in an important meeting, I’ll often ask for opinions of the group before sharing anything. That way I can learn about their perspectives and positions and tailor my points based on what I’ve heard. I have time to refine my argument, build counter arguments or decide to support one of the ideas that has already been presented.

Some managers feel like they need to speak early and loud so nobody beats them to the punch. They can’t stand the thought of another person stealing their idea. The meeting degrades into a bunch of loud voices all competing for time. I think this strategy is flawed. I’d much rather listen and then share my thoughts after I’ve benefitted from everyone else’s perspective. I can show leadership by combining pieces of other ideas. I can show judgement by identifying gaps in early ideas. I can hit a homerun by learning from the reactions to early ideas and then offering my own optimized idea.

My advice to managers is to wait a little longer before injecting your opinions into meetings. Not just to inspire creativity and activate less vocal participants, but also to benefit from the informational advantage that comes from acting later.

Many leaders operate with only one gear. They’re aggressive. They’re vocal. For years, I’ve observed this type “A” tendency in myself and other managers around me. I think it’s a strategic flaw and I’ve made a point of controlling it. There are times when acting aggressively is warranted but I see many advantages to speaking less and speaking later.

 

Heads’ reports to GBs; good relationships matter

Trigger warning: This blog has been written because I felt the need to “rant”!

While browsing Twitter this morning I read a few tweets discussing  a TES article. As this was on governance I naturally clicked the link to read it. I wish I hadn’t!

The article discusses how heads can “get the best” out of their governors. The second suggestion is a good one. Governors will, I think, appreciate hearing from the staff. They will appreciate being given an opportunity to interact with staff and to ask them questions directly. Staff, too, may appreciate being given the chance to talk about what they do. This will also bring governors and staff closer to each other with each understanding what the other does.

So what, I hear you ask, is my problem with the article? Well, the problem is the first suggestion. The suggestion is that heads should include a deliberate mistake in their reports to governors “just to check they’ve been reading it“. It is this suggestion that I find unhelpful and even patronising. Let me state right at the beginning that there are governors who turn up at meetings unprepared and not having read the papers beforehand.

Reports_Dlbert

This article, however, does not distinguish between those who come prepared and those who don’t. It makes a blanket generalisation which isn’t helpful. The article also states,”We try to get everything out in writing to governors with at least a week or a long weekend to read and digest the contents before the actual meeting.” There is no acknowledgement that “trying” to get the papers out on time is the problem. Legislation does not say that the school should “try” and send out papers in advance. Legislation actually requires that papers be sent out at least seven days in advance of the meeting. I find the “long weekend to read” comment funny too. Are governors not entitled to a work/life balance? Why should governors be expected to spend their weekend, long or otherwise, reading papers they should have had in advance? I’ve heard some people say that heads are busy so governors should not complain if papers are late. I’m sorry but that doesn’t wash! It’s part of the head’s job to supply the information requested by the governors and supply it at least seven days in advance of the meeting.

If a head feels that certain governors are attending meetings unprepared then I think the way to handle this is to have a quiet word with the Chair. The Chair, I hope, would have picked up this him/herself too and can deal with it in an appropriate manner. But peppering your report with  deliberate mistakes in order to try and “catch them out” will not help matters and may ruin any trust that exists between the head and the governing body. What about those governors who have read the report and then question the deliberate mistake? How would they feel when the head replies, “Ah! That’s a deliberate mistake I put in there to see if you’d spot it. Well done for reading the paper.” Secondly, just because someone spots a typo doesn’t mean they will also ask strategic question. This isn’t the way to help governors think and ask strategic questions. Thirdly, what if they do spot it but say nothing because they want to spare your blushes thinkng you’ve made a silly mistake? Or what happens if governors spot the mistakes and send the report back with red marks all over it, asking it to be re-done? That’s the governors’ and the head’s time wasted!

rejected stamp

Image courtesy of cooldesign at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Something to think about: In which other industry/job will you find the employee trying to catch out his/her employer by adding a mistake in the report the employer has asked for? Also ask yourself what sanctions would the employee face if this were to happen!

I’ll end by making two comments. Firstly, I hope this was an attempt at humour and not an actual serious suggestion to fellow heads. Secondly, as there are “good” governors out there, there are also excellent heads who are a joy to work with, who enjoy and welcome the challenge and support from the governors and who think that the school is best served if the staff and governors work well together. One such head is Jarlath O’ Brien whose five ways for heads to turn governors into critical friends is well worth a read.

Rant over!

Effective minute taking matters, courtesy of @ICSA_News

On 22nd Oct 2015 Rob Robson and Philip Davis (authors of Effective Minute Taking) took over ICSA’s Twitter account and answered questions and posted top tips on effective minute taking. As this is something which will be of interest to governing boards, especially clerks and company secretaries, I thought I would collate the tweets here for everyone. Please read and share with your clerk and see if there is something in these tweets which can help you improve your practice.

This is something I think should be avoided if at all possible. Best practice would be to employ an independent clerk to clerk your full board and committee meetings. If due to some reason it is not possible (financial constraints, for example) to have committee meetings clerked, then I would strongly urge that a governor who is not a committee member take the minutes. This will leave committee members free to concentrate on the business of the meeting.

During the chat they also tweeted some top minute taking tips which are as below.

Update: New (Sept 2016) ICSA guidance on minute taking 

Matt Lake, very kindly sent me the following links. They offer an “interesting” insight to minute taking. DISCLAIMER: These are not being posted here as examples of best practice!