Gavin Hawkey, Foundation Director of Cardiff City FC Community Foundation and Trustee of Skills and Volunteering Cymru, offers a CEO perspective on the value of trustees and the importance of teamwork in charity boards.
MANY VOICES. WORKING TOGETHER. WITH PURPOSE.
The theme of Trustees’ Week 2023 is ‘Many voices. Working together. With purpose.’ As someone with a deep connection to football through both my personal and professional life, the theme of this year’s Trustees’ Week caused me to think about the parallels between teamwork on the football pitch and in the charity boardroom.
WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS OF HIGH PERFORMING TEAMS?
‘Choose your best player for every position and you’ll end up not with a strong XI, but with 11 strong 1’s’ – Johan Cruyff, Dutch Professional Football Player and Manager.
I can think of teams that were blessed with the best technical players and all the conditions for success but failed to achieve their potential. Equally, I can think of teams that were somehow much greater than the sum of their parts.
It strikes me that the high performing teams, those that consistently do the best they can with the resources available to them, share similar characteristics. I’ve picked out four common characteristics of high performing teams:
- Diversity and inclusion – In the modern world it’s important for boards to reflect the communities they serve. More importantly trustee boards must create an inclusive environment and celebrate diversity. Good trustee teams actively seek to involve others and champion the uniqueness of individual contributions.
- Collaboration – Underpinned by strong communication and interpersonal skills, the ability and commitment to collaborate with other trustees, stakeholders and the management team is crucial. This sets a tone and creates a culture where we all work together to make change.
- Curiosity – What have we learned? How can we improve? What don’t we know? These are all questions equally at home on the training ground and in the boardroom. Questions that can help the team to reflect, learn, grow, and ultimately improve performance.
- Compassionate leadership – By adopting a compassionate leadership approach, actively listening to, understanding, and empathising with others, trustees can create a culture where we all feel valued, respected, and cared for. In turn, this helps us do our best work and enables the team to achieve its full potential.
TEAMWORK AND GOOD GOVERNANCE
Good governance relies upon good teamwork. If trustees work well together, it leads to good decision making and increases the likelihood of the charity thriving. A failure to work together, no matter how talented the individuals, leads to poor decision making and can pose a serious risk to the charity. Here are three key critical areas where charity boards must work well together:
- Safeguarding – Trustees need to ensure they have the correct people, policies, and processes in place to protect services users, volunteers, and staff. This is a collective responsibility of the board. Investigations into safeguarding issues at charities all too often highlight the failure of trustees in these organisations to demonstrate strong leadership in creating an organisational culture that prioritised keeping people safe.
- Risk management – It’s a key responsibility of the board to review the risks the charity faces and decide how to best manage them. Charities must have an appetite to accept a certain amount of managed risk in the pursuit of long-term objectives. Utilising the diverse range of skills, experiences and viewpoints of the entire board is crucial to risk informed decisions.
- Finance & fundraising – A solid understanding of the charity’s finances is, of course, essential for charity boards. The board must understand budgets, financial reports, the business model, and the funding environment. Using the diverse skills and experiences of the whole trustee board, rather than relying on one or two trustees with a finance background as too many charities often do, can help the board provide effective oversight.It’s here where trustees with a fundraising background, like a good midfield player, are exceptional at seeing the space between the lines and connecting the dots. Check out the blog by my colleague Kerys Sheppard about why Fundraisers make great trustees.
BUILDING EFFECTIVE TRUSTEE TEAMS
So how are effective teams built? Here are three top tips:
- Welcome – Give new trustees a proper welcome. Take time to bring people into the group, introduce them to everyone and create opportunities to observe the charity’s work in action. Encourage new trustees to share their skills and contribute to discussions from the outset. Create time for board development as well as the functional matters of business.
- Celebrate success – For any team there will be wins, draws and losses… it’s the same for charity boards. It’s important to reflect on progress, areas for improvement and key learning. Celebrating success, no matter how small, helps maintain perspective and can give team spirit a welcome boost.
- Say thank you – Trustees put in a huge amount of effort and offer vast expertise to charities. It’s important to value every trustee and thank them for their insight and unique contribution to the team.
Trustees bring a wide range of skills and experiences – used to support important causes and local communities. They lead, inspire and influence others to make impact. As a charity CEO, I’m privileged to benefit from the support, guidance, check and challenge provided by trustees.
No matter the talent or the formation selected (I’ve gone for a 4-3-3 in this blog), teamwork is an essential ingredient for success. So, whether you’re already a trustee or thinking or becoming one, I urge you to think about what it is you bring to the team and how you contribute to the conditions needed for the team to thrive.