Listen up…here’s the primary tenet of good governance

For most of us blessed with hearing, it’s probably true to say not too many of us are great listeners. Yes, we all hear, but do we really listen?

I pose the question because in the world of good governance, perhaps the fundamental tenet, the beacon that stands head and shoulders above all others in this multi-faceted discipline is the board’s ability to listen – really listen – to its major stakeholders.

The primary stakeholder is, of course, the owner or owners and shareholders of the entity or, in the not-for-profit world, the members.

I’d like to spend some time today taking a closer look at federated member-based organisations, where traditionally the balancing act between listening to the regions and having functioning, effective national boards characterised by impartiality and neutrality has been a source of much debate.

That’s because in the federated member-based domain, the time-honoured model has a national entity with separate entities in each state and territory. The national board is usually made up of representatives – usually the presidents – from the various state and territory bodies, to ensure the regions are listened to.

But in the Australian context – where states and territories cherish their identity and can, at times, act in a parochial manner – this has historically produced massive challenges. The national board members are often torn between what is good for the state body versus what is in the national interest. Invariably, human nature comes to the fore and members tend to think colloquially.

The challenge has become so pronounced in the nation’s sporting arena that the Australian Sports Commission – the government body funding sport in Australia – in its governance principles, clearly encourages national bodies to look beyond creating boards comprising members from the states and territories and aim for one that’s truly independent.

That’s all well and good, although we need to guard against two things.

Firstly, we need to ensure that the national board is populated by a good spread of people with a sound knowledge and understanding of the particular sport, ideally at a detailed level.

And secondly, if the independent board does not have the structures or sophisticated mechanisms in place to seriously listen to what the state and territory bodies are saying, you’ll have war.

So how do they do this?

The really good national boards of federated member-based organisations will have an ‘Advisory Committee to the Board’ made up of people from the state and territory boards.

This committee will come together periodically to work, in a committed and genuine fashion, with the national board on matters of strategy and policy.

And where the board involves them and listens to their input, you’re suddenly and effortlessly kicking goals aplenty!

Until next time,
Kate.

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