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Board members’ capacity

A look at board capacity, how to build it and the importance of diversity

Your board should develop and promote a collective vision for the organisation’s purpose that mirrors its objectives (see our section on introduction to sports governance). Aligned to that vision will be the body’s internal operating climate, culture, behaviours and values; these will be established by the board and articulated and embodied in their actions. The board will provide good governance and leadership by:

  • understanding their role;
  • ensuring delivery of organisational purpose;
  • working effectively both as individuals and as a team;
  • exercising effective control and autonomy, where appropriate;
  • behaving with integrity;
  • being open and accountable; and
  • creating and maintaining an inclusive work/volunteer environment.

A successful board is not necessarily a comfortable place all of the time. Challenging viewpoints as well as teamwork is essential and should be welcomed by board members and by senior management/executive. This can be achieved, in part, through having diversity in the boardroom in terms of race, gender, disability or other demographics of your membership.

Board diversity

Diversity is an important factor in a board’s effectiveness, creating a breadth of perspective among board members and senior managers and breaking down any inclination towards ‘group think’. This is reflected in Principle 2 of the Code for Sports Governance: ‘Organisations shall recruit and engage people with appropriate diversity, independence, skills, experience and knowledge to take effective decisions that further the organisation’s goals.’

More broadly, research has shown that greater diversity in organisations is a predictor of performance. Diversity has been shown to be an important factor in innovation, more informed decision making and greater effectiveness (achieving organisational goals). The accompanying commentary in the Code for Sports Governance explains the rationale behind the requirement and what is expected of organisations to achieve this.

The Code says

Diverse, skilled and experienced decision-making bodies contain independent voices and engage in constructive, open debate enable good decision-making.

Diversity (Requirements 2.1–2.3)

2 .1 Each organisation shall: (A) adopt a target of, and take all appropriate actions to encourage, a minimum of 30% of each gender on its Board; and (B) demonstrate a strong and public commitment to progressing towards achieving gender parity and greater diversity generally on its Board, including, but not limited to, Black, Asian, minority ethnic (BAME) diversity, and disability.2.2 Each organisation shall identify proportionate and appropriate actions to be taken to support and/or maintain (as appropriate) the diversity targets set out in Requirement 2.1. 2.3 The Board shall ensure that the organisation prepares and publishes on its website information (approved by the Board) about its work to foster all aspects of diversity within its leadership and decision making, including an annual update on progress against the actions identified in Requirement 2.2.

It will be for an organisation to decide how it identifies and agrees the actions that should be taken to support and/or maintain the diversity targets set out in Requirement 2.1. However, the Board should have a role in this process and should monitor progress against the actions, in particular discussing the annual progress update and the plan for the following year before this information is published.

How to build capacity

To conscientiously start building effectiveness in your board, you should:

  1. review the strengths and weaknesses of the current board from a multi-stakeholder perspective
  2. using a skills audit, note strengths and gaps in the capacity of the current board
  3. evaluate the diversity of your board
  4. consider what new skill sets needed on the board and how you may reach the appropriate people to serve on the board

Recruiting new board members will add different perspectives and ideas, generate discussion and improve informed decision making. Regular and planned turnover of board members keeps an organisation healthy and encourages a positive culture of change and development.

Experienced board members, meanwhile, should devote time to developing and refreshing their knowledge and skills, including those of communication, to ensure that they continue to make a positive contribution to the board. Being well informed and having a strong command of the issues relevant to the organisation and the wider sporting context will generate the respect of other board members and senior managers.

Board members need to make time available to discharge their responsibilities effectively. Recruitment material should state the minimum time that they will be expected to spend on the organisation’s business, and seek the individual’s confirmation that they can devote that amount of time to the role. Prospective board members should be advised that in times of change or challenge, this commitment is likely to increase.

Board members have a responsibility to uphold the highest standards of integrity and honesty. They should support the chair and senior managers in instilling the appropriate culture, values and behaviours in the boardroom and throughout the organisation. In return, they should expect high quality, accurate and timely information sufficiently far in advance so that there can be a thorough discussion of issues under consideration. Further information on meetings and board packs can be found here.

Finally, it's also important that board members seek, be aware of and take into account the views of members and other stakeholders, because these views may provide different insights on the organisation, its reputation and its performance.


For a board member to be effective, it will be necessary to provide the individual with sufficient information about the organisation and the environment in which it operates to be able to contribute to board discussions in a meaningful manner as soon as possible. It is thus worth evaluating your board’s induction process.

It is unrealistic for each board member to be fully versed with the issues facing the organisation at their first board meeting, however, each should be working towards gaining that comprehensive knowledge. The induction pack and structured induction programme for each new board member is just one method by which necessary information can be imparted.

As individuals absorb information in different ways, several methods may be used for inducting each board member. These could include:

  • an induction pack that uses both text and graphics to display contextual and performance data;
  • site visits to observe the organisation in action - offices, facilities, different teams and areas of operation within the sport;
  • meetings with key members of staff and other key individuals such as athletes or representatives of participants’ or supporters’ groups;
  • observing board or committee meetings to gain an overview of the scope of the organisation’s activities; and
  • a buddying system with a more experienced board member.

The time taken to complete an induction will depend on the organisation, its size and complexity, but it may take 12 months for the individual to have gained experience of a full board cycle.

To ensure that the board member receives the information they require in the most appropriate format, it is advisable to consult them before devising the induction. This conversation should inform how the programme should be tailored concerning both content and delivery. Previous board experience and knowledge are of course, relevant to the induction design, as the board member may already be aware of the legal and regulatory aspects of the role. An update of any developments may, however, be advisable, particularly if significant time has elapsed since they last held a board position.

The governance lead, in consultation with the chair, should prioritise the information to be provided and schedule the various induction elements over an extended period.

For further guidance on the induction of board members, as well as a specimen induction pack, check out our tool below.

Induction of board members

Capacities of individuals = Board composition

By considering the capacities of board members, you are taking stock of the ‘composition’ of your board, the synergies and unique skills/knowledge of the board as a collective.

Whether or not the organisation has a nominations committee, the chair should be responsible for leading board recruitment. The process should be continuous and proactive and should take into account agreed strategic goals. The aim should be to secure a boardroom which achieves the right balance between challenge and teamwork, and fresh input and thinking while maintaining a cohesive board.

It is important to consider a range of personal attributes among board candidates, including:

  • critical assessment;
  • sound judgement;
  • courage;
  • independence of thought;
  • openness;
  • honesty;
  • tact;
  • humility;
  • flexibility in thinking;
  • ability to listen;
  • ability to forge and build productive relationships; and
  • ability to develop and inspire.

Diversity of psychological type and background is important, alongside the more visible protected characteristics of the Equality Act, to ensure that your board is not composed solely of like-minded individuals.

For more on how to assess the competence and composition of the individual members of your board, as well as the board as a whole, take a look at our governance maturity matrices tool below.

Governance maturity matrices

Given the importance of committees in many sports organisations’ decision-making structures, it is important to recruit board members with the necessary technical skills and knowledge (or a willingness to acquire them) relating to the committee’s subject matter, as well as the potential to assume the role of the committee chair.

The chair’s vision for achieving the optimal board composition will help the nominations process for reviewing the skills required, identifying gaps and developing transparent appointment criteria to inform succession planning. An organisation should also consider maintaining a list of those skills the board possesses and would benefit from. Identifying current strengths and deficiencies in a board’s composition can help to inform an effective recruitment process. A review of the effectiveness of the recruitment process should be undertaken to assess whether the desired outcome was achieved and to suggest changes to future processes.

Good board appointments also require a prospective board member to carry out due diligence to understand the organisation, appreciate the commitment required and assess the likelihood that they will be able to make a positive impact.

The role of senior managers

Usually, senior managers take a wider view of the organisation’s governance and leadership, and this can help achieve a greater knowledge of, involvement with and commitment to the operating environment and decision-making processes. The board may delegate authority to other individuals or a committee, but responsibility for any delegated functions remains with the board collectively. 

As the most senior manager, the chief executive is responsible for working with the board to consider and agree the strategic direction of the organisation and for implementing that strategy.

Depending on the structure of the organisation, the chief executive or manager may or may not be part of the board. Either way, the chief executive must present papers to board meetings, provide additional information and answer board member questions. Occasionally, the board will need to meet without the chief executive present to discuss that person’s performance and other matters that may be confidential. In such circumstances, the chair should provide an appropriate level of feedback to the chief executive to ensure that there is an ongoing relationship of trust.

The chief executive, with the support of the senior management team, has primary responsibility for setting an example to the organisation’s employees and members, communicating to them the expectations of the board concerning culture, values and behaviours. The chief executive is responsible for supporting the chair to make certain that appropriate standards of governance permeate throughout the organisation.

The chief executive should ensure the board knows the views of the senior managers, employees and other relevant stakeholders on matters relating to the organisation’s business to improve the standard of discussion.

The relationship between the chair and the chief executive is crucial for the effective running of board activities and of the organisation. It is a relationship of trust and must allow for a frank exchange of views and opinions. Furthermore, in order to maintain balance and to avoid the concentration of power and influence in one individual, the roles of leading the board (chair) and of overseeing the implementation of policy and its management (chief executive) should be separate. The Code for Sports Governance states (Requirement 1.17) that the differing roles of the chair and the chief executive should be set out in writing and agreed by the board. Due consideration and thought should be given to areas of potential overlap.

Senior managers have the most intimate knowledge of the organisation and its capabilities when developing and presenting proposals and when exercising judgement on strategic matters. Senior managers should appreciate that constructive challenge from board members is an essential aspect of effective governance and should embrace the testing of proposals by the board members when making decisions.