Contributors: Caroline Emmet, Julia Fuller, Charlotte Sweeney

Once you get your first board appointment, the next step is to get some pointers on how to ensure you get off to a good start in the new role.  Below we list some tips from Women on Board members who have recently joined a new board.

  1. Meet the chair and co/vice chair - ideally not together but in separate one to ones. Understand from them their individual perspectives about the challenges that the organisation faces; personnel issues (whether on the Board or staff in the organisation); current and future objectives; risks to the organisation; gossip you should be aware off; pitfalls to avoid; understand why your post became available (it may be too late to change your mind but at least you can learn from those who went before you)
 2.  Find out which sub committees exist and their terms of reference.  Your position may dictate that you sit on a specific sub-committee but (if you have the time available) sit on at least one other sub-committee.  This will help you to understand how all of the pieces fit together and to understand where there is delegated authority to make decisions at sub co level and which decisions are passed up to full board.  Again, this will help you to see the politics and relationships at play.  You may also get to meet other co-opted volunteers and executives / senior management from your company / charity who sit at sub co level.
 3.  Get hold of the prior year audit report - and talk to the Treasurer/Audit Committee Chair about any questions you have
 4.  Make sure you have an induction session (or as many as needed depending on the size of your organisation).   If this isn't offered as routine, propose one with a list of who you'd like to meet and make sure it happens
 5.  Make sure you have a list of board and committee meeting dates for the next 1-2 years, to minimise diary clashes. Most organisations plan their board meetings as least 12 months in advance.
 6.  Give yourself plenty of time to prepare for your first board meeting. Allow enough time to read the papers a couple of times and to ask questions prior to the board meeting if necessary.
 7.  Take a few board meetings to sit back and listen to the discussions that are taking place, watch the relationships and interaction at play and think about the role you want to play within the board dynamics.  Don't feel that you have to jump in immediately with challenges to what is happening.  A considered approach will be respected in the long term.
 8.  Take every opportunity to understand the business and meet the people on the ground that really make the business happen.  How can you made solid, considered and effective decisions about the business or service if you don't understand it?
 9. Take time out to meet the executive directors on the board and understand their challenges and what they are concerned about.  If you are going to challenge something they are delivering to the board, ensure that you are respectful and mention it ahead of the meeting.  That will ensure it comes as no surprise to them and gives them the opportunity to consider their current position - and have time to change it if this appropriate.  Building respectful relationships across the board all help to create an environment for a fully effective board.
 10.  Sit in on your first board meeting as soon as possible.  Depending on the nature of the organisation, you may have to go through disclosures before you can be fully appointed (i.e. CRB/DBS).  Don't let this stop you from getting to know how the board works and ask to sit in on the meetings as a co-opted member or observer. You may not be able to speak or vote but you will start to see the dynamics in action.
 11.  Remember that you are on the board as a NED and not an executive director.  You are there to support, challenge and ensure you are comfortable with the appropriate rigour around elements such as risk and finance.  Don't jump into the role of rolling your sleeves up and acting as an executive, no matter how tempting it may be.
 12.  Arrange to meet other board members; It is often possible to spend time with other board members before or after scheduled board meetings. But if this is not the case, try and arrange an opportunity to get to know others on the board over a meal or coffee. You will get different and useful perspectives and insights from everyone and will build a better understanding of the overall board dynamic and the skills each director brings to the board.
 13.  Get to know the PA to the chair or CEO i.e. whoever it is who sends out minutes and agenda for your sub-committee and Board meetings.  He/she will be the one to get you out of trouble if you are running late, forget your papers, can't get the PowerPoint to work, etc.