Board and Staff  - Clarifying the differing roles

Those who work in commercial businesses generally have clear, documented roles and responsibilities. Community groups should operate with the same efficiency as any successful business.

If a group becomes incorporated and takes on the legal responsibilities of an organisation, then under the laws in the various Australian states a person or group of people (Committee of Management or Board of Management) must be appointed to take care of the organisation.

Legal requirements aside, it is only common sense that an organisational structure is needed if the group's mission is to be accomplished.  Within that structure the roles of each position need to be clearly defined. In particular, the roles of the Board and the staff need to be clarified.

Why do we need to separate the roles of the Board and the staff?

The Board and the staff are separate entities with different functions.

The Board acts as the highest authority of an organisation. It looks at the big picture. It is responsible for setting the organisation's policy, monitoring that the organisation's finances are generally in order, vouching that the organisation's operations are legal, providing an oversight of the effectiveness of the organisation's procedures, and providing leadership and direction. The Board is responsible to the members, to the community, to the organisation's clients, and to the public.

The Staff  (under the Chief executive Officer/Manager) is responsible for informing and advising the Board, implementing the Board's strategic plans, and conducting the day-to-day operations of the organisation.  

The Board, the CEO and the staff should work in partnership for the greater good of the organisation.

Defining the roles

There are some roles which are not clearly a staff or board responsibility, rather a joint effort. However, there are duties where a clear distinction is necessary.

The following are generally board responsibilities:
  • Setting long-term goals
  • Having the final say when determining yearly objectives
  • Ensuring the mission of the organisation is adhered to
  • Finalising budgets and allocate funds
  • Approving any changes or additions outside the budget
  • Taking responsibility for the company's financial records
  • Evaluating programs, services, and products
  • Evaluating board members and executives
  • Employing a chief executive officer and evaluating CEO's performance
  • Appointing new board members
  • Selecting committee members
  • Taking responsibility for all legal matters
  • Taking responsibility for compliance with regulatory requirements (e.g. annual general meeting, annual returns, audit etc)
  • Appointing auditors and approving the audit of the fiancial records
  • Managing committees
  • Maintaining and building the organisation's public profile

Staff have contact with the Board through management channels, and in most cases the formal responsibility for staff functions will rest with the CEO. The following are generally staff responsibilities:
  • Providing information to the Board
  •  Supporting the Board's planning function
  • Determining community needs
  • Operating programs and reporting on their successes and shortcomings
  • Evaluating staff performance
  • Organising the organisation's events, fundraising activities, etc. once approved by the Board.
  • Employing and dismissing staff members and volunteers
  • Managing staff problems
  • Implementing Board decisions
  • Conducting day-to-day financial operations
  • Monitoring and managing daily operations
The staff are responsible to the CEO, and the CEO is responsible to the Board..

The following activities are best conducted jointly:
  • Discussing ideas and forming long-term goals
  • Planning organisational strategies
  • Designing programs to achieve the group's mission
  • Proposing fundraising ideas
  • Ensuring risk management programs are implemented
  • Ensuring that achievements are recognised and documented
  • Promoting the organisation

What happens when there is conflict between the Board and the staff?

Friction will almost always occur at some point between the Board and the staff or the management (it is always easier to criticise another's job when you are secure in the knowledge that you won't actually have to do it). Some disagreement is healthy, and it is better to deal with these areas of disagreement rather than to ignore them and let them fester. The important thing is to have procedures (and conventions) in place to manage conflict when it arises.

To minimise conflict the organisation must have a clear mission statement, so that both the Board and staff know exactly why they are there, and clearly stated guidelines for the organisation, detailing roles within the group's structure. Regular contact and free communication between the staff and Board will also go a long way to maintaining a healthy relationship.

To minimise conflict:
  • Discuss outstanding issues with all parties, not just with the people who complain the loudest.
  • Address any problems as soon as possible
  • Ensure decisions that come before the board are supported by background material that has been prepared or reviewed by staff
  • Ensure that staff are consulted before the Board makes a final decision on important initiatives or strategic directions.
  • The Board should give directions to staff only through the CEO. Individual Board members should certainly not give instructions to staff
  • Both staff  and Board members understand their boundaries, their responsibilities and their role within the organisation.
  • The CEO should hold performance evaluations for staff annually.  The Board should hold a performance evaluation of the CEO's position annually.
There should be dispute resolution systems in place for dealing with disputes among staff. Procedures should also exist to refer disputes between the CEO and the Board to ad hoc committees for resolution.

Both parties should come to a conflict resolution meeting with an open mind. People should always remember that they are dealing with another person, who has feelings and deserves respect. A session blaming one another is fruitless; patience and listening skills will help resolve a problem, while accusations will only infuriate people and move the problem further from resolution and closer to a disaster.

If a resolution does not come out of a meeting, make sure there has been some progress, even if it is only an agreement on another date for a meeting. Keep moving forward.

As an overall rule, an organisation should review its operational procedures and programs annually. This gives both board and staff members the opportunity to vent any dissatisfaction. It also means potential problems or conflicts may be detected before they become huge disasters.

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