Helping a beleaguered Chair to establish stability and direction

West Berkshire Training Consortium

“Action Planning took what I saw as an insoluble problem and they walked me through a solution. From an early stage, when I was quite stubborn about certain issues, they made me aware that I had to adjust my mindset in a gentle, polite way. They did everything to support the key players, which is what I asked, but they made it clear what could happen and what they said was right. They were absolutely brilliant.”

Anthony Bravo, Chair, WBTC

West Berkshire Training Consortium (WBTC) provides high-quality apprenticeships and training to organisations and young people across West Berkshire and beyond. Some challenging relationship issues had been brewing for a while and were creating a difficult context for an upcoming Board Strategy Day, so Chair Anthony Bravo decided to bring in a facilitator to try to address the issues.

What began as a last-minute call for a facilitator developed into a wide-ranging project, involving numerous Action Planning Associates.

“I had tried other organisations but couldn’t find anybody who could help,” said Anthony. “David Saint said he could do it. He understood what the pitch was and was able to extrapolate situations which I hadn’t imagined. I went in looking for a facilitator for the day and it just snowballed.”

The initial brief was to facilitate the Strategy Day but as the situation evolved, it expanded to include ongoing support to Anthony and overall project coordination; submission of a serious incident report to the Charity Commission; a grievance investigation; sales training; and trustee recruitment and training.

In conducting his usual preparatory interviews with individual Trustees and the MD, it became clear to David that this was to be less of a strategy day and more about rebuilding relationships, both between the Board and MD and among the Board members.

Given the circumstances, the strategy day was extremely successful. David managed to get the participants to arrive at a clear shared vision for the future, and an agreed set of priority actions to deal with current challenges.

“He was exceptionally good on that strategy day,” said Anthony. “He took a bunch of arguing people and had them all singing from the same hymn sheet. They couldn’t argue. Only when they left they thought up a new way to argue.”

Indeed, despite the gains made on the day, continuing disputes led to the Board resigning en masse, leaving only Anthony and the MD in post. Over the coming months, David helped Anthony to stabilise the situation and rebuild the Board, providing ongoing governance.

The mass resignation of trustees created a need for a Serious Incident Report to be submitted to the Charity Commission. This was prepared by Action Planning’s charity law specialist David Kirby.

One of the issues that arose was a possible grievance and/or safeguarding issue. Shelley Poole, one of Action Planning’s HR specialists, carried out a thorough investigation and produced a detailed report with recommendations for improved ways of working by both the Board and MD.

One of the challenges facing WBTC was the need to increase sales of training apprenticeships. Dawn Ray, who has a great deal of experience in this area, and David Saint ran a sales training workshop for key WBTC staff, and Dawn then provided further one-to-one training and support.

The next task was to rebuild the Board. David Saint advised WBTC on the process of appointing three ‘interim’ trustees identified by WBTC’s MD, and then Action Planning Associate Felicia Willow ran a full recruitment process to find new trustees. Twelve promising candidates emerged and eight were appointed.

In February 2022 the MD decided to move on. One of the senior managers agreed to act up as MD until a candidate could be found to fill the role permanently.

By the time of writing the MD had left amicably and an interim MD was in post.  Due process had been followed in reporting the mass resignation and the investigation had absolved anybody of blame, whilst identifying ways in which things could be done better in future. A strong board was in place and had had a productive first meeting, with which Anthony was really pleased.

As a result of this comprehensive support plan, he declared himself to be “in a happy place”. “I wasn’t,” he added. “It’s 10% of my day job but it was taking up 80% of my time.”

Anthony has now requested further support for training the new trustees, facilitating a fresh strategy day with the new interim Managing Director and Board and in recruiting a permanent MD.

Consultant’s insight:
Over the years we have been asked to intervene in quite a few situations like this, where relationships have become so challenging that it is seemingly impossible to move forward.

The great advantage of bringing in someone from the outside is that they have no “baggage”; they are not aligned with any one viewpoint or grouping; they can objectively assess how best to move forward (because there always is a way.)

This assignment also tested our slogan “The answer’s yes – what’s the question?” because so many different skill sets were required to address the various issues. Happily the deeply skilled Action Planning team was able to step up to the plate, providing expert input from six different specialists.

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