McCracken Consultancy
Strategic Consultancy for charities and third sector organisations


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McCracken Consultancy

A trustee board profiling system - does this resemble your board on a bad day?

We are all familiar with the many profiling systems of individual personality types and leadership styles that have been generated over the years, and it struck me that I could usefully develop my own profiling system….not in relation to the individual but in relation to different behavioural styles of non-profit trustee boards, each of which acts as a discrete organism in their 'personality' and leadership style.  This profiling system has been developed unscientifically but is based on the behaviour of different boards I have come across whilst supporting them to work more effectively with each other and their CEO, and hopefully does offer some insight into common pitfalls. 

Just as in most individual leadership style profiling techniques, aspects of each ‘type’ can be recognised and applied very usefully, in the right doses, in the appropriate situations. On the other hand, when the approach appears to be stuck in a rut of overwhelmingly one of these styles, to the exclusion of a more balanced approach, a ‘not-too-well-functioning’ board surfaces.  So here are my board ‘types’ of extreme, unhelpful, and very common behaviours.  Running a really effective board is extremely difficult…………..but recognition of our failings is the first step to improvement; so, do any of these look like your board on a bad day?

The Rubber-stamping board

Regular trustee meetings are characterised by the CEO presenting their progress to often very flattering and well-meaning trustees, but without gaining any useful feedback.  The CEO diligently prepares lots of material for each meeting which is not necessarily studied by trustees before the meeting, the trustees let the CEO ‘talk everyone through it’, everyone is very impressed by the diligence and professionalism demonstrated, and essentially rubber stamp all required decisions.  Neither are the trustees dispensing their duty, nor is the organisation likely to be moving forward as it could be with more positive input and challenge.  The organisation is open to abuse if trustees never question activities, do not ensure best safeguards are in place, and abdicate leadership to the CEO.

The Micro-managing board

At trustee meetings the board questions in minute detail everything the CEO has been doing and how in turn their staff are performing on specific tasks.  Board meetings are very long and much documentation is generated ‘for information’. The CEO finds it difficult to make lower level decisions quickly as trustees want to be involved in decision making beyond the basics;  the CEO is involved in much time-consuming production of reams of justification for decision-making and depending on the frequency trustees meet this can lead to an organisation unable to be ‘light on its feet’. The CEO feels there is a slight constant threat of management actions being ‘undone’ at board meetings, and wishes that the board did more listening and less talking, so they could understand the issues ‘on the ground’. 

The Supreme Strategizers

This group just love 'strategy'!! Sometimes these trustees have come from jobs where strategy has been a major component, and they love to see data manipulated into a plethora of diagrams and graphs.  So they are happy to create a space for ‘the big vision’ and that’s good.  However, when it comes to action they can be tentative and may miss good opportunities to launch cash-generating activities or create beneficial relationships.  They can be tentative because they are never quite sure which is the better option until they have ‘more analysis’…… until options start slipping away.  The CEO can be pulled into slow repetitive meetings at odds with the practical matters that need seeing to, as well as losing out on presenting opportunities, which is highly frustrating for the CEO.

The Hands-On Action board

Partly due to trustees caring very much about the charity they have given their time to, they often take on any number of roles: advisors, experts, fundraisers, providers of contacts, networkers, donors, and ambassadors; they are often indeed founders with a high profile.  Where the charity has a limited budget for employed staff, or a trustee is particularly effective in a ‘hands-on’ role, this is very valuable, however it cannot be at the expense of the legal role of trustees to have ‘joint and several’ accountability i.e. governance, of the organisation. If the role of governance is not properly understood and valued it is easy for ‘running a fundraising dinner’ to take over as the focal point of trustee meetings.


So, have you recognised your board? If you know your tendencies you can always keep a check on yourself.  If you would like to speak to me about proactively improving governance in your organisation give me a call on 07792 503 815.

Natasha McCracken