MMM recently filmed Russell Willis Taylor (President and CEO of National Arts Strategies based in the USA) and Tesse Akpeki (facilitator and coach) in conversation about how boards in the arts and cultural sector might operate more effectively and achieve greater impact.
The starting point for both Russell and Tesse is that boards should look outward and acknowledge that they have a role to play in wider civil society. Tesse recommends that board members should meet and listen to the communities their organisations serve. Russell suggests that boards need to concentrate less on the day to day and more on their broader role, “enjoying it and celebrating it”.
Tesse describes the three modes that boards need to operate in. The first is compliance and here the emphasis is on fiduciary duties for example, those derived from charity law and regulation. The second is operational and concerned with business planning and monitoring and measuring what the organisation is doing. The third is “generative” and reflects on the big questions for example, “how can we best achieve our mission?” Tesse and Russell agree that all boards, even the boards of arts and cultural organisations, tend to focus on the first of these, compliance; many are weak on “generative” leadership. This is despite the obvious link between “generative leadership” and creativity or “robust playfulness” as it is called in some of the literature.
The conclusion is that in order for the boards of arts and cultural organisations to be effective they need to be able to operate in all three modes. They might therefore deliberately recruit board members skilled in each mode. They also might structure board meetings so that adequate time it allowed for “generative” as well as other discussions.
Russell puts in a plea for boards to remember to talk about and celebrate the art, which after all is why everyone is there and suggests that playfulness or “lightness of touch” can be extremely important. She emphasises that the behaviours required of good governance need to be learned rather than coming naturally, even to the brightest of people. However, when it works well and boards “are unified in their purpose extraordinary things can happen”.
See also Good governance for changing times Russell Willis Taylor (President and CEO of National Arts Strategies based in the USA) interviews Sir Vernon Ellis (Chairman of English National Opera and the British Council) who describes the behaviours that high performing boards exhibit here.
And, Recognising Realities, presentations from an MMM event held on 27th March 2012 considering “What kind of governance and what kind of leadership do we need for these changing times?” here.