Launching And Developing A Trainee Board: Insights From Elizabeth Froude 

Within the past few years, a handful of pioneering organisations have begun establishing trainee boards – a group of young professionals who act in an advisory capacity to the main board, contributing to an organisation’s mission and vision without the fiduciary responsibility. These initiatives allow organisations to supplement their boards’ skills whilst training mentees in leadership and board governance, equipping them with the skills and experience necessary to transition when the time is right. 

One CEO who has successfully implemented this initiative within her organisation, Platform Housing Group, is Elizabeth Froude. Platform Housing Group is one of the largest social landlords in England, helping to build a better future by investing in affordable homes, services and communities. Elizabeth recently discussed her organisation’s trainee board with Helen Schwarz at the GRG Executive Search Women In Leadership event.  

Implementing And Perfecting The Programme 

Speaking of why she first decided to create a trainee board, Elizabeth explained, “Like many organisations, we really struggled to recruit diversity as well as technical skills on our board. I’d heard about the idea of trainee boards and was really keen to try it, so I asked whether I would be able to implement a programme for diverse members of our organisation to teach board and leadership skills.”

Designed to support and nurture an organisation’s future senior leaders from within, a trainee board also provides an ideal platform for mentoring, allowing junior members of the team to reap the benefits of main board members’ experience and expertise. Elizabeth noted, “All of our trainees are significantly younger than our main board, by around 30 years. They were all really enthusiastic and keen to learn. They were each assigned a main board member ‘buddy’, which was someone who had all the skills necessary to mentor them.” 

A trainee board programme also allows members to be exposed to areas of the business they may not otherwise have encountered, which can help to inform future career choices. This aspect was especially important to Elizabeth, as she explained: “We rotated our members round each of our board committees, which meant they experienced different technical areas of the business and also had the opportunity to sit in on meetings. Following this, we brought them in as permanent members of some of our board sub-committees to provide more depth in specific areas they are especially interested in, or that match their own technical skills and abilities.”

Generational Differences 

Although the leaders of today are starting to look for the leaders of tomorrow, generational gaps – including communication styles and cultural reference points – can sometimes pose difficulties in forming a connection. However, aside from the odd inter-generational communication breakdown, however, Elizabeth has found that the experience has breathed new life into her organisation. She noted, “Our junior board just have an entirely new mindset, and provide us with a fresh perspective. We also find they really bring the energy and innovative thinking we need to further our organisation’s mission. We’ve also been lucky in that a few of them have lived experience of social housing growing up, so they’re also able to contribute from a customer perspective.”

For Elizabeth, one of the best things about the trainee board is being able to witness the incredible zeal the junior recruits have for the role. Elizabeth commented, “It’s been great to see the passion and desire. Watching them learn has also been a really rewarding experience, too. Even if they choose not to stay at Platform Housing, it’s a pleasure knowing we’ve helped mould some incredible board members for someone else’s organisation.”

Advice To Others

Although no research currently exists on the number of trainee boards currently active in organisations throughout the UK, it’s a trend that appears to be catching on fast, and is especially popular within non-profit organisations like Platform Housing Group. For businesses wishing to implement the initiative, Elizabeth had some advice:

Keep An Open Mind 

“It’s really important not to pigeon-hole your trainees into specific board-type roles at the outset. You might have an idea of what role will suit someone best, but your idea might be totally different from theirs. Recruit people and don’t try to think about their destination – it will become clear in time!” 

Be Guided By Your Trainees

Organisations might also wonder what type of training they need to provide to junior board members as the programme progresses, and how just how involved this training should be. Elizabeth notes that when considering this, it’s important to be guided by the members themselves. She explained, “We thought we needed to create a really structured plan that included a deep internal induction plan and some wider board training, but over time around half of our trainees said they actually didn’t want that wider programme. So, when we start again with our next trainee board, we’ll just be providing a deep version of our internal induction, which we feel will be much more beneficial.”

Just Do It! 

Finally, for organisations torn over whether implementing a trainee board is the right step for them, Elizabeth had one final note: “I’ve spent so much time singing the praises of the programme in an attempt to convince other organisations to implement it! There’s a temptation to make it overly complicated, and it doesn’t need to be. Actions speak louder than words, so just get it done. Once you do it, you’ll realise it’s a fabulous idea and wonder why you didn’t do it sooner!”

Taking The Lead For An Equal Future

At GRG Executive Search, our annual Women In Leadership events are part of our ongoing commitment to promoting equal opportunities and inclusion. You can discover more about our events and explore past topics here. Alternatively, for a confidential discussion about how I can support your executive search requirements, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me on helenschwarz@grgexecsearch.com.

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