Leading for innovation: can board meetings be innovative?

Katherine William-Powlett shares her thoughts on innovation and on leadership in the voluntary sector. Katherine no longer works for NCVO but her posts have been archived on this site for reference.

Do your meetings resemble this Dilbert Cartoon Strip?

In my last post – ‘The Innovative Board- An Oxymoron‘ I suggested that when leading for innovation a board should first look to itself and be sure that its manner of working stimulates creativity and allows innovation. Why should they do this?

Trustee meetings can become very formulaic or over formal; they can be rushed or dominated by strong personalities; they can get set in their ways. In ‘The Networked Non-profit’ Beth Kanter talks about the Fiduciary board- focused on financial matters; the Rubber Stamp Board – just passing decisions of the CEO; and the Muddle Through boards lacking strong leadership. If you recognise your own board in any of these descriptions, you may benefit from thinking differently about board meetings and finding ways to make them something to look forward to rather than approached with a sinking feeling.

If you can get the climate right in your meetings, creative ideas will follow.  You may think that a trustee meeting is no place for creativity but creating a climate of creativity in your meetings is worth considering because:

  • The Good Governance: a Code for the Voluntary and Community Sector suggests that the board set the culture of the organisation. If the board acts in a way that shows it values open mindedness and attendion to new ideas, then the organisation is likely to follow.
  • Meetings are likely to be more productive and effective

It is helpful to think of nine dimensions to a creative climate.

1. Challenge and Involvement with vision

2. Trust and Openness

3. Idea time

4. Idea support

5. Playfulness and humour

6. Lack of conflict

7. Debate

8. Risk taking

9. Freedom

If you can have all these in your board meetings,it will stimulate the board to be more innovative in its approach.

You may be thinking that the dimensions listed do not sit well with board meetings, but a look at the Code supports the importance of a trustee board being prepared to think differently.

  • Principle 1 says and effective board will challenge CEO, set vision, values and reputation; lead by example and set the culture. (Challenge and Involvement)
  • Principle 2 suggests trustees should be alert to external and environmental factors and consider whether different ways of working may be required to meet opportunities and challenges, and be alert to the risk of missing opportunities. (Openness, Risk)
  • Principle 3 states that an effective board will work well as a team and encourage diversity in widest sense to support effective decision making. (Openness)
  • Principle 4 asks that trustees maximise the value of diversity as a way of challenging institutional assumptions and thinking. (Openness, Idea Time)
  • Principle 5 says an effective board will foster a working environment that supports constructive challenge and welcomes different points of view. (Openness, Idea Time, Idea Support)
  • Principle 6 asks that an board is open and accountable; takes stakeholders views into account; actively seeks, values and takes into account views of members and key users; demonstrates that the organisation learns from mistakes. (Openness, Idea Time, Idea Support, Risk)

So if your trustee board is set in its ways and needs some fresh thinking and if you want your organisation to be more innovative, lead by example and work on getting the climate of your meetings right.

I promised that these blogs would be practical: you can download here a pdf Innovative Board Index – this is a tool I am prototyping to help Trustee Boards assess their meetings for creative climate and provides practical advice on how to bring more creativity into your board meetings. If you try it, I would be most interested to hear how you get on.

For more Innovation thoughts visit the NCVO Innovation pages

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