Building and ensuring effective governance is a critical challenge for co‑operatives large and small. Improving the performance of the Board of Directors as the governing body of the co‑operative, is therefore central to building better governance. To meet this need, we can offer a suite of programmes designed to help co‑operative boards assess and improve their performance. This suite includes:

  1. Board Skills Audit
  2. Board of Directors Self- Assessment Tool
  3. Director Induction

Board Skills Audit

The Board Skills Audit process has been in place and widely used by consumer societies, social enterprise and leisure trust boards since early 2003. It has proved an invaluable process for Boards in identifying skills gaps and in deciding how these gaps were to be filled. The process and the questionnaires to support it have evolved over time to include important questions on Board effectiveness. These too have provided useful information for Board development purposes. The Skills Audit interview questions and questionnaires have been recently amended to bring it fully into line with updated and new codes.
The Board Skills Audit (BSA) is delivered by an approved Co‑operative College Auditor. Our Auditors have a comprehensive understanding of co‑operative governance and are fully trained in the Co‑operative College BSA process. All our Auditors are skilled communicators and have experience of high level strategic management work.

The BSA process consists of five stages:

Stage 1 – Introduction session
Stage 2a – 360 ° questionnaires or
– Director interviews
Stage 2b – Optional observation of board meeting
Stage 3 – Assessment of questionnaires/interviews and production of a report
Stage 4 – Audit feedback
Stage 5 – Follow up meeting and development planning

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Board of Directors Self-Assessment Tool

The self-assessment approach provides an alternative to the Board Skills Audit (BSA) or offers an interim measure between audits which are usually conducted every two to three years. We have developed this tool to help Directors focus on key aspects of their role and set objectives for the coming year. It is based on the duties, roles and responsibilities of the Board. These are broken down further into individual and collective ‘competencies’ required for effective performance.

The self-assessment process is intended to support Directors wishing to:

  • Review what they are doing and how well they are doing it.
  • Prioritise measurable objectives for what they hope to achieve over the next twelve months.
  • Provide the basis for  monitoring progress and performance.
  • Identify what support is needed by The Board and from whom.
  • Identify and communicate their learning and development needs.
  • Help influence the design and delivery of learning and assessment programmes.

This process is a self-help tool to acknowledge the diversity of members, their skills, and individual contributions. It invites Directors, through a two tier process of self-assessment, to exercise openness and trust in identifying the learning needs of the Board as a whole and themselves, as individuals, in order to achieve the targets agreed. The two tier process of self-assessment comprises of an individual Director self-assessment and self-assessment of the Board as a whole.

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Directors’ Induction

Like anyone starting in a new role, the Directors’ Induction process is key to the effectiveness of individual Board members and the Board of Directors as a whole. The Co‑operative College currently offers Directors Induction by workshop or by the completion of a self-study workbook with tutor support.

Directors’ Inductions can be tailored to a specific co‑operative but generally cover the following:

  • Background to the UK Co‑operative Movement
  • Co‑operative Values and Principles
  • Co‑operative Structures
  • The Board and the Director
  • Values in Action
  • Culture and Team Development
  • Your Society
  • Members
  • Finance
  • Effective Meetings
  • Governance

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Director Development

Over a number of years we have worked with Chelmsford Star Co-operative, a consumer co-operative based in Essex, by carrying out Board Skills Audits and introducing a
Board self-assessment tool and delivering customised training to meet identified development needs.

We have delivered a number of tailored workshops as a result of this process covering topics such as governance, membership engagement and our “Understanding and Interpreting Financial Information” workshop.

The Board of Directors are elected by the members and ensure that the Society adheres to the co-operative values and principles, as set out by the International Co-operative Alliance, which ensures the co-operative ethos remains at the heart of the Society.

“I now feel confident to assess Board papers more thoroughly before and during meetings.”

“I have a better understanding of what constitutes ‘financial health’ in terms of reserves, liquidity. This will be helpful in considering future investments.”

“The whole day was very useful. In particular understanding balance sheets.”

– Workshop participants