The ABC of time on a board


This week I was a guest on Philip Clark's Nightlife program on ABC Radio. For 48 minutes Dr Alison Gaines, General Manager Asia Pacific at Gerard Daniels and Chairman of the Murdoch University Foundation, and I discussed the various responsibilities of boards, how they are constituted and the work involved.


In what was, at times, an interesting conversation in which Philip sought to expose most boards as the rather clubby, who-you-know arrangements of 10 years ago, and Alison and I sought to reassure that in some sectors at least things had moved with the times a little more than he thought.

We were asked a couple of interesting questions. One was around the amount of time it takes to serve on a board - a question we are asked at every workshop and event we run. The answer is never straightforward. Every organisation is different in terms of its time requirements, but there are a few overarching principles which I thought I would share:

  • In your initial investigations into the board role ask about time commitments, but do not let this put you off applying for the role if you are really interested / are a good fit.
  • Do not make the mistake of judging how much time the board role will take based on an assessment of the current workload. Things can fluctuate and the workload will change depending on what is happening in the organisation, eg a CEO or role change can affect smaller organisations significantly.
  • If you are invited to join a board or nominate for election, be very clear with the nominations committee (if there is one) and board Chair as to how much time you have to offer.  As a guide you will need to read your papers, attend to any action items with your name next them, attend meetings & strategy sessions and, on larger boards, serve on at least one committee.
  • Be strategic about the issues you take on - particularly on an NFP board. Even though the temptation may be to address many issues because you are able, focus on one or two and do it well. Also remember that the organisation itself will only have limited capacity.

Other issues that came up included the importance of board evaluation and what boards really do - ie, what is their remit when it comes to being involved in an organisation.

Those interested in board roles may like to listen to the interview, given not many of you are up at 10pm at night to listen!

Enjoy the weekend, Claire


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