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The next step for our EO business: appointing a new trustee director

Three and a half years on from Team Consulting’s transition to trust ownership and it is sadly time to say goodbye to our first trustee board Chairperson, Stella Wooder. Stella led an exceptional board into what has been an exciting and fulfilling learning experience for the business and its co-owners. As she retires from her position, Alexandra Gilbert will step into her shoes, but this leaves the trustee board a player down! And so arises the interesting challenge of appointing a new trustee director – how to do that?

Diagram of Team Consulting's trustee board
Composition of Team’s trustee board

Like many aspects of being an employee-owned business through a trust, there is no one right way to select a new director; we were faced with the challenge of deciding what would work best for Team. With careful planning and a lot of discussion, the trustee board developed a process which worked really well. Here are a few aspects of the process which I believe were key to a smooth and successful decision.

Advertise the role clearly

The position of trustee director was open for any Team employee to apply for, regardless of position, department or working pattern. But what makes a good trustee director? For most of us, it was a relatively unfamiliar concept and so the trustee board put together a description to clearly outline the key characteristics and responsibilities. This helped people establish whether it might be a good fit for them; many found that a lot of what makes a good trustee director is also what makes a good Team employee! As a result, some gravitated to the role who had not previously considered applying.

Involve the co-owners in the decision

There are a number of ways we could go about appointing someone for the position; should there be a vote across the company? An election? The idea of individuals campaigning in competition seemed to conflict with the collaborative culture of Team. Perhaps the existing trust board could just pick someone, but that would not give the co-owners much opportunity to influence the decision.

In the end, the trustee board opted to create a selection working group (SWG), comprised of two existing trustee directors and two volunteer co-owners, who would review all the applications and make a recommendation. I volunteered to join the group and was selected alongside my colleague Sarah Mardle. Coupling the perspective of existing trustee directors with co-owners allowed for meaningful discussions and a balanced review of the candidates.

Appointing a new director diagramComposition of the trustee board director selection working group

Have a close discussion with each candidate

We had four great candidates apply for the position and appointing just one was a challenge. Despite working remotely due to the COVID-19 lockdown, we had great conversations with each of the candidates individually over video call. We got to hear their ideas and ambitions behind applying for the position and it was a great opportunity for the existing trustee directors to gain valuable insight from the candidates themselves. To encourage fulfilling discussion, each member of the SWG took ownership of a category of questions; this also helped make the process feel less like a panel-based interview and more like a conversation! Trust ownership is a new concept for many of us, so the candidates were provided with some example questions ahead of time to help frame what we would be discussing.

Consider the overall trust board balance and diversity

When making the final decision to recommend one candidate, the SWG paid close attention to not only what each candidate excelled at, but also what unique experience, background, or ideas they could bring to the trustee board. An effective board is not just made up of excellent individual trustee directors, but how they all work together and the collective vision they have as a unit. It is also important that the trustee board is representative of and approachable to as much of the co-owner population as possible. I feel this is very much a case where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Any new angle or fresh perspective may be beneficial in handling the various areas of responsibility held by the trustee board.

Employee ownership means something different for each company. As a result, the ideal or most effective trustee board or director will also be different. Having a well thought out approach to board selection, which complements the company’s values, culture, and strengths, will hopefully aid in encouraging co-owner engagement and the successful appointing of the right candidate for this significant position. For me, being involved in the process was an opportunity not only to have an influence on the business as a co-owner, but also to learn about how an employee-owned business is run and to develop myself in ways I wouldn’t be able to in my day to day job.

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