Has your board wrestled with the questions of what makes for an effective board trustee, or committee chair?

Are you uncertain whether you all have the same understanding of the roles your board chair and your CEO or school leader each play? Perhaps you’re constantly revisiting where the responsibilities of one end and the other begin.

We recently answered these questions, and more, on a training webinar for BoardOnTrack members. Because operating effectively as a board starts with building and maintaining an effective governance team.

If you‘d like to help your trustees — and senior staff — work more efficiently and effectively together, read on. 

The Board-CEO Partnership: Two Sides of One Coin

Charter organizations are led by two equally important sides of the same coin: the board and the CEO (with their staff).

Collectively, the two sides hold overlapping, yet distinct, responsibilities for ensuring the success of the organization.

To engage the power of the collective team, find an appropriate balance between the two sides. Think both …not either/or. The board-CEO partnership combines your strengths and perspectives into a whole that’s even better than the sum of the parts.

Learn more about finding and managing the governance-management line here.

Define Roles For Your Governance Team

To find that coveted balance, each side must know exactly what’s expected of them. Each role must be well-defined and clear to everyone on the team.

Here’s a quick definition of the essence of each key role on your governance team. If you’d like more detail, check out our job descriptions for charter board officers.

The Role of the Board Chair: chief volunteer leader of the organization.  

  • They’re responsible for facilitating and empowering the work of the board.  
  • The most important skill of any Board Chair is to be fantastic at running group processes.
  • Fostering a strong, supportive, collaborative relationship with the CEO is key.

The Role of Your Committee Chairs: set clear direction & norms for their committee.

That means that committee chairs must:

  • Bring strong group facilitation skills
  • Hold committee members accountable
  • Establish the right protocols for interacting with staff to preserve the governance-management line.
  • Help all committee members navigate the tricky role of working directly with C-Suite team members.

The Role of a Charter School CEO:

The CEO {or school leader in many organizations} is the most difficult role in building and maintaining the governance team. The board is only as good as the CEO.

The CEO is ultimately hired and fired by the board. They walk a tightrope, taking direction from and serving at the pleasure of the board; while also being a leader to the board.  

  • Devotes time to grow and sustain governance team
  • As the organization grows, the CEO delegates committee liaison work to their C-suite.
  • The CEO sets and achieves the management goals; supports the board in achieving those goals
  • And the CEO will partner with the Board Chair to provide leadership to the board without overstepping into board governance.

The Role of the Charter School C-Suite and Senior Leaders:

The difference between a true governance team and any other board with just a CEO is the involvement of staff.  

  • Committees should be the engine of the board. They need direct, expert support from staff to be successful.
  • Staff are assigned to and clear on their roles to support and sustain effective committee work
  • Includes roles such as: the Chief Academic Officer, Dean of Academics, Principal, CFO, Business Manager, Development Director, Community Relations, Grants, etc.

Key Signs That You’re Building an Effective Governance Team

It can be pretty easy to see that you aren’t functioning as a team…or that you’re doing just ok.. But how do you know you’re on the right track to building a great governance team?

  • Everyone knows who’s responsible for what.
    The collaboration of the full board, committees, CEO, and management team feels like a well-oiled machine.
  • Your team tackles difficult topics.
    You’re able to openly, respectfully, and productively engage in tough conversations. And trustees have a strong enough relationship with colleagues (board and staff) to ask tough questions of each other.
  • Meetings are productive and informative.
    Multiple board members and staff give reports and presentations, not just the CEO.

    Board meeting agendas are created in partnership between the Board Chair and CEO.

    Committees meet regularly with, and have strong support from, staff. And committee meeting agendas are created in partnership between the Committee Chair, CEO or their designee (C-suite member).

Governance is led by the board. But governance is a team sport.

To get your governance team on track, start with the tips here. Make sure your roles are clear; establish and nurture a strong board-CEO partnership; monitor your progress to ensure you’re functioning well as a team.

You’ve made a promise. To deliver excellent results for your community’s kids. Building a strong governance team is integral to delivering on that promise.

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