Governance is one of those aspects of organisational life difficult to describe but easy to recognise when it goes wrong...Board members leaving in frustration, executive director and chair in power struggles, client groups feeling they don't get a say, stormy annual meetings... and that's just in the nonprofits. At a recent conference Drew Mackie and I helped participants work through those and other challenges using a simple game. The workshop wasn't quite as brisk as the communities of practice session we ran, but I think participants achieved a lot in 90 minutes. If you want to try it for yourself, here's how we did it, with some results played back to the rest of the conference that was organised by the Foundation for Good Governance. Briefly:
* Split into groups of not more than eight
* Each group invents an organisation facing tough challenges.
* Exchange the scenario with another group - giving them the task of dealing with the challenges
* Ask the groups to take on Board roles while they develop plans, and report back to everyone else
* Then ask groups to reflect on the lessons learned to report back to the wider conference
You can download here a more detailed sheet of instructions developed by Drew Mackie.
The groups we worked with at the conference invented three organisations: a training organisation, one delivering services to refugees, and a social enterprise engaged in neighbourhood-level capacity building. The issues they were dealing with were clearly drawn from personal experience: moving from grant funding and developing other sources of revenue; rotating Board membership and developing their skills; facing suspicion and lack of trust; living from hand-to-mouth; high staff turnover. They talked these through playing roles including director and chair, service user and adviser, finance director and council member.
I find one of the main benefit's of Drew's games is that they provide an 'almost real' context in which people can talk about their day-day-day experiences without breaching confidences, and develop some shared insights. We asked the groups to each come up with three points from their discussions. Here there are:
* Keep to aims and objectives – don’t bend to chase funds
* Use quality control and audits
* Ensure appropriate representation of service users on Boards
* Have a good balance of empowered representatives
* Understand that there are support networks available
* Aim for a sustainable and strategic role for the Board
* Ensure Board appointments are be transparent and of effective people
*Enable the board to act as a team: the role and skills of the chair is crucial - also aim for collective responsibility
* Board has to be capable of dealing with change, balancing new ideas with understanding of the mission
No great surprises, and the sort of thing you find in the governance toolkits. but I think people were able to fill out these bullet points a lot in their discussions, and make some new contacts.
Added benefit: there's no need to do a Powerpoint presentation.... flipcharts and a simple framework to release the collective wisdom of those attending are all that are needed.
Some of our other games