Despite working in higher education for over 15 years I was a relative newcomer to the world of governance, or so I thought. With this in mind and knowing how valuable networks are, I applied to attend the Governance Professionals in HE spanning five months, not only to start to build those networks but to ensure I was delivering best practice in my day job.
So having faced day one of the course which always gives me that ‘first day at school feeling’, and the unfounded fears of wondering whether anyone will talk to me, or will I be the only person in the room who has no idea of what is going on, I can honestly say there are definitely elements of the course that I will take back to my working life. In no particular order, here are the top three things I will be doing over the summer:
It is a cliché, I know, but the people you meet on these courses are truly valuable. It’s important, having gone to the effort to make that connection, to maintain it. It’s the ad hoc conversations and the comfortable ease with which you readily begin to discuss in your action learning sets the challenges you’re facing in your working lives that really help you understand what you can do to improve situations. A couple of months on from the course we continue to be in email contact, asking questions and testing ideas with each other and I will make sure this continues.
The three formal programmes covered a lot of ground. We discussed theories in leadership, the various roles within the governance structure including the really fascinating topic of the dynamic between the Chair, the Vice-Chancellor and the Secretary. We also focused on the wider board membership, the dynamics and impact of board culture. I am very interested in people and like nothing more than observing behaviour and dynamics – some call it nosiness but I prefer to believe I’m fulfilling my role! And finally the role of the secretary, the skills and experience they need (see previous comment!). I have consolidated the topics into this short paragraph but I will be using my role as secretary and drawing on the skills I have to ensure a good balance in the dynamics – at least for the majority of the time. It's not that I didn’t do this before, more that I will do it more consciously to achieve the best outcome.
Another very valuable by-product to attending these courses is the ideas you generate. You have permission (and time) to think about the conversations you’re having, the issues you’re discussing, all of which for me at least, start the synapses firing! We’re all facing the same external challenges (I refuse to mention the A, B or O word) and similar internal issues. We have minimal influence on the former but we have some great ideas for the latter. It’s true that not all ideas would work in different types of institutions but the kernel of that idea can be adapted and that’s what I will be spending my summer doing. I will be constructing several plans which will review and update a variety of our processes with the objective of improving our efficiency and effectiveness as a board.
I said at the beginning that I thought I was a relative newcomer to the governance world but it turns out I’m not! Having been in higher education for a number of years there was nothing in the content of the course which I didn’t, as an administrator that has had a variety of roles, already know. That doesn’t make it any less valuable, in fact, for me it was hugely comforting as it means that I have 15 years of experience and developed skills to draw upon alongside my new network of highly capable and knowledgeable governance professionals – you know who you are and expect an email from me with questions soon!
Sharon Tuersley is Secretary to Council at the University of Warwick and has responsibility for the corporate governance of the University.
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