5.7 Building capacity and confidence for governing bodies
Governance capacity lies at the heart of maximising self-determination. Don’t let your governance evaluations and planning work go to waste.
We all know about hundreds of plans and reports that sit in filing cabinets and never get used again.
Unfortunately, many people think that once you develop an action plan for building your governance, it will simply happen. It won’t.
Just like a footy team, everyone in the organisation—the governing body, management and staff—needs to develop and practise their new governance skills and procedures.
The same applies for nations and communities. If you want to change your governance arrangements you have to be able to walk the talk.
5.7.1 Signs of poor governing capacity
It’s easy to tell when there is low governance capacity in an organisation. You will know you have problems if:
- the governing body is confused about its roles and responsibilities, does not have the skills and confidence it needs, is not making policies or enforcing its own rules, and has a high turnover
- the governing body is not supervising or evaluating the work performance of their top manager.
- the governing body’s meetings are poorly attended, dominated by the bullying behaviour of a few and overwhelmed by mountains of complex paperwork, resulting in poor decisions
- the top manager takes on more decision-making powers than he or she should, and individual people on the governing body routinely interfere with the administrative work of managers and staff members
- staff morale and work performance are low.
It is critical for the members of a governing body and the top manager to understand their own distinct roles within the organisation, and the responsibilities and limits to their powers.
You will find more information on this important division of roles and responsibilities in Topic 7.
5.7.2 Developing your governing body
Because members of a governing body often have different levels of skills, experience and confidence, it is important they have regular access to a variety of governance training, updates, orientations and inductions.
Governing bodies need to develop governance capacity regarding:
The cycle of sustained governance development
- their given roles, responsibilities and accountabilities
- the goals and objectives of the organisation
- how to develop and enforce their own policies
- other organisational policies they will be expected to implement
- how to run effective meetings and make informed decisions
- their relationship to members and the community
- the cultural values, role and commitments of the organisation
- their relationship to the CEO, staff, funders and other stakeholders
- legal and ethical standards
- the financial structure of the organisation
- their role in reviewing reports from management and auditors.
Today, governance training can take various forms. It is best to look for training that suits your needs and local situation.
But remember that one-off training and inductions are not sufficient to build resilient governance. Confidence and capacity build up over time and it takes practice and experience to tackle the real-life problems that governing bodies deal with.
The most successful approach to building governance capacity is one that:
- becomes part of the daily routine of your organisation
- builds on your existing strengths and knowledge
- relates to specific conditions and local problems that need to be solved
- is carried out on the job so that understanding is embedded in practice
- is based around identifying culturally legitimate solutions for governance problems
- includes role-play and problem-solving scenarios that enable solutions to be practised and refined.
This means, for example, that inductions for incoming members of a governing body are best done face to face and then repeated at regular intervals. Also, each member should be provided with a copy of the organisation’s strategic documents.
To be effective and sustainable, governance capacity should be developed as a continuous cycle.
Training to empower VACCA’s governing body
The Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) was a Finalist in Category A of the 2014 Indigenous Governance Awards. Here CEO Muriel Bamblett speaks about the importance of training to empower directors to undertake their role effectively.
5.7.3 Produce a governance reference manual
More and more organisations are creating their own governance reference manuals to serve as an information kit that can be used by their governing body and members, and placed on their website.
Template: List of contents for a governance reference manual
This list of contents will give you an idea of the kinds of information you could include in a governance reference or induction manual for your leaders. Your community and nation will also be better informed about how you do things if they have access to it.
Successful organisations are those that allocate resources to providing their own regular, in-house governance capacity development—not just to the governing body, but to all managers and staff as well.
The commitment to effective governance has to run throughout the whole organisation.