Building healthy Board – Staff Relationships

1. Introduction


The Chief Executive and Chair Partnership in context

Context plays a large part in shaping board/staff partnerships. There is no doubt that Chief Executive and Chairs need a decent relationship to work well together. What is needed are tips and techniques to help individuals build a good personal rapport. The Chair shares with the Chief Executive a joint leadership role. Working together they inspire and motivate the organisation. The Chair, as a leader of the board has a special, multi-faceted relationship with the Chief Executive. The Chair leads the board as it carries out its governance duties. The Chair acts as a primary point of contact between the executive and the governing body, working towards maintaining accountability, good relations and a constant flow of information. What are the basic ingredient that makes relationship work and a mutual understanding work? Establish what is important within the relationship. The board and the Chief Executive should be a team with the same values, belief and vision for the success of the organisation.

2. Achieving role clarity

  • Understanding roles and responsibilities
  • Relationship profiles – healthy Chief Executive/Chair Partnership contributing to effective governance practice

3. Positive Steps

  • Building healthy partnerships. What plays an important part in the relationship as it progresses? Work out the core of the relationship.
  • Getting partnerships off on the right foot – creating a Chief Executive/Chair working agreement. What are the expectations? What does each partner owe each other?
  • Improving the communication environment
  • Working towards policies designed to make communication between Chief Executive and Chair all it should be.

4. Dealing with conflict

  • How to avoid clashes – how can each partner make sense of the behaviours? Establish what steps you can take when a partnership turns sour.
  • What practical techniques including facilitated discussion and mediation can help Chief Executives and Chairs turn a troubled relationship around?

5. Useful resources

  • Point the way to agencies, websites and publications that offer support for Chief Executive/Chair partnerships.

9 Things Chief Executives and Chairs need for successful partnership

  • Clearly defined roles on both sides – clear goals – role descriptions, person specification
  • A shared vision (a shared sense of purpose)
  • Basic behaviour guidelines – setting clear guidelines. Code of conduct on ways to behave that support partnership working
  • A policy framework – a sound framework of written organisational policy for both parties to work with.
  • Good communication systems – establishing good communication practices. What can help all parties to work at the top of their game?
  • Development opportunities. Encouraging good practices – collaborating on devising development for the board and the Chair. Chairs should take up opportunities for induction, training, mentoring and coaching. If no such programmes exist, the Chair should use his or her position to establish them.
  • Ways of working – determining working styles and preferred styles of working. Build structure into how both parties work. Effective delegation is key to sharing the load. Utilising the range of skills and abilities in leadership roles, provided situations are handled well can be a boon to the strategic partnership.
  • Manage performance and address underperformance. The board has the role of hiring, supporting the Chief Executive and determining his/her remuneration. The board has the role of assessing the Chief Executive’s performance, offering feedback and taking action in response to performance results.
  • A way to get help: have procedures for dealing with complaints and grievances. Get support for the partnership through services such as facilitation, arbitration and mediation.

Active engagement between the board and the staff – 9 routes to building a healthy, welcoming and warm relationship

  • With the Chief Executive taking a leading role in framing issues and brings largescale organisational change such as a governance overhaul.
  • Help the Chief Executive present to present issues and convey information effectively
  • Sharing the burden of bad news or hard times with the Chief Executive. Host ‘what is keeping the Chief Executive awake’ sessions.
  • Agree how the board and staff can promote the organisation and influence the delivery of the mission.
  • Develop awareness of the present climate and potential future risks for the organisation.
  • Connecting to the larger voluntary, community and social enterprise sector and networks of Chairs Charity Leader Networks, networks of trustees and other collaborators and influencers.
  • Seeking out new ideas and innovative techniques that can strengthen the organisation.
  • Working with the Chief Executive to find practical ways to improve the performance of the trustee board and of the organisation.

Takeaways – #5 Top Tips

  • Establishing the partnership. Lay the groundwork for an effective partnership and making the partnership a priority. By demonstrating good will and developing a candid, challenging but supportive working relationship, the Chair can form an effective alliance between the board and the executive the balance is achieving a constructive critical friendship and building a strategic partnership.
  • Join forces for greater effectiveness. The Chair acts as strategic partner to the Chief Executive, guiding the board as it develops strategic ability and uses governance practices to support strategic aims. When a problem arises with the Chief Executive, the board should act to determine the course of action to be taken in the best interest of the organisation.
  • The right attitude. Attitude is everything when it comes to leadership. The Chief Executive is a partner, not an adversary. A needlessly aggressive Chair destroys the possibility of a real partnership with the Chief Executive. A Chief Executive who constantly surprises his board may end up losing trust and confidence. Both the Chief Executive and the board should role model leadership.
  • How can you get answers to questions? – Have an honest chat. Honesty, transparency and openness in a relationship is like language in a society. Be respectful and build trust and confidence. Practice the doctrine of ‘No Surprises’.
  • Is it is going wrong? Face up to the problem rather than pretending it is all ok. Avoid coming to blows over misunderstandings. Do you feel hopeful about possibilities of change within the relationship?


Association of Chairs: Supporting charity and non-profit chairs. Providing much needed advice and information 
Governing with intent: An enquiry into trustee board effectiveness
The Good Trustee Guide 
Not-For-Profits Programme (previously LawWorks for Community Groups) 
A Marriage Made in Heaven? The relationship between Chairs and Chief Executives in Charities (Penelope Gibbs, Clore Social Leadership Programme)

Tesse Akpeki, Lead Onboard Consultant. Tesse is a coach, mentor, facilitator. She serves as a Governor of International Students House and Chairs its Governance and Nominations Committee.

This information is necessarily of a general nature and doesn’t constitute legal advice. This is not a substitute for formal legal advice, given in the context of full information under an engagement with Bates Wells.

All content on this page is correct as of November 8, 2018.