Trustee Week 2020: Buddying up on the Neighbourhood Networks Board

The Future of Governance?

Neil Park and Ross Watson Vice Chair and Chair of Neighbourhood Networks Board of Trustees share their experiences of developing relationships between Board Members using the Buddy System.

Neil Park

With the “Future of Governance” being the theme of this year’s Trustees Week and a focus on the implementation and impact of the Third Sector Governance Code, it is perhaps worth checking in on what matters within and between a team of Trustees.

Much is written and workshops facilitated around the technical aspects of governance. The need for clarity of an organisation’s purpose, leadership, behaviors and effectiveness, however, is what’s often lost in the need to be fully compliant with the requirements to be robust and to adhere to codes of conduct. It is the relationships between individuals within teams which greatly contribute to all of the above!!

Since joining Neighbourhood Networks as Vice Chair in 2018, what’s struck me, having worked in supporting the volunteer led sports sector for many years, is the empathy and mutual respect within the trustee group, resulting in greater effectiveness of the working culture across the organisation.

This softer side of “good governance” should be more front and centre when considering how organisations operate, giving time and space for individuals to get to know and support each other, ultimately in delivering on all aspects of any code.

On the board of Neighbourhood Networks, we have an equal cross section of member and non-member trustees. The member trustees are drawn from (and recruited through due process) individuals with experience of benefitting from our services, while the non-member trustees are appointed, again through due process, from business and the third sectors with the appropriate skills required to contribute to and develop the organisation.

Member and non-member trustees form a “buddy” partnership, helping both in the formal aspects of being a trustee, preparing for and encouraging input at board meetings, but also checking in on each other. Particularly in these difficult times, a short email or text or phone call is gratefully received!

And it definitely works both ways!!

Coming from a business background and having been on several boards, I have found being a trustee with Neighbourhood Networks quite cathartic.

Learning about and understanding an individual’s life experiences and the impact we can have on their life going forward, being a trustee with Neighbourhood Networks has certainly opened my eyes and I try and be less focussed on the technical and more on a softer side of governance to appreciate where member trustees need help in their understanding of their role on the board and their being supported to be able to become more positive in contributing.

I have tried to take this back into my own life and work, perhaps being less quick to judge or be more open in seeing issues from another side, particularly where decisions taken by a board can have a material effect on its stakeholders, or for us our members through the services delivered by Neighbourhood Networks.

Ross Watson

And from Ross’ perspective, being a member trustee and the Chair of Neighbourhood Networks, “having a buddy with a background such as in business is very helpful to myself and the other member trustees. It helps me and others to feel more relaxed where we don’t have to be daunted or scared by the things being discussed amongst the board”.

“Also the technique typically used is a ‘No wrong answer’ one, which further gives relief to member trustees that their input won’t be judged in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable”.

“That’s why member trustees feel the ease of pressure when they are on the board, and I personally feel it is a great board to be a part of”.

The buddying that exists between our trustees definitely works, as can be seen from the progress we have made not just in growing our services, but also in ensuring that member trustees in particular feel included, confident that their input will be listened to and valued and, most importantly, that they themselves grow as individuals.

Ross and Neil

Buddies @ Neighbourhood Networks