Is teamwork making your trustee dream work?

We all know the saying – “Teamwork makes the dream work” – that a good team is stronger together and more than the sum of its parts.

High functioning teams work together to achieve a shared goal in an atmosphere of mutual respect, inclusivity and collaboration where each member can play to their strengths and feels that their skills and contributions are valued.

Pension scheme trustee boards have a very challenging goal, ie to run their pension scheme well. The job involves:

  • making big decisions
  • asking difficult questions
  • expressing contrary views, and
  • standing by group decisions.

It seems so obvious that this is a team job. That teamwork must be at the heart of trustee effectiveness and inclusivity.  But you can’t just assume that a group of individuals working together will necessarily become, and remain, a team. It takes ongoing work and effort.

In the past, we had regular all day in-person trustee meetings, with plenty of time for discussion and debate on key topics, plus time to get to know each other over coffee and lunch, and in many cases dinner or drinks. Trustee boards evolved into teams fairly organically and without much thought or effort.

Now it’s more common to have shorter, agenda packed virtual meetings. Reading the room and interjecting at the right time is harder, and there’s a greater risk of attendees disengaging or feel sidelined. During breaks we dash back to our kitchens on our own to put the kettle on.

In many ways these changes have driven huge improvements in efficiency. You can’t deny that trustee boards and their advisers get through more in less time and we need to, because there is just so much to do.  It’s also far easier to fit shorter virtual meetings in around other commitments, so scheme business can be moved forward more quickly.

But could there be a flip side? Might this new way of working mean we need to think about trustee teamwork in a different way?  If we don’t, could we be becoming more efficient in some ways but less effective and inclusive in others?

Thankfully, there are lots of ways you can help your trustee board to continue feeling and behaving like a team in this new era.  Here are my top ten tips:

  1. Look for team skills when selecting trustees – highlight at the outset that teamwork is a skill you are looking for and ask questions about compatible skills as part of any MNT interview process.
  2. Give new trustees a proper welcome – take time to bring new trustees into the group, introduce them to everyone and encourage them to share their skills and contribute to discussions from day one.
  3. Have at least some meetings in person – yes, virtual meetings can be really helpful, but it’s definitely worth meeting face-to-face from time to time if you can.
  4. Bring people together for interactive training – having an in-person interactive training session can be a double win. The training itself is likely to be more effective and learning side-by-side always means getting to know each other better.
  5. Adopt a meeting protocol or code of conduct – maintaining an atmosphere of mutual respect relies on everyone modelling a team culture and spirit. Having a meeting code or protocol ensures everyone knows what is expected of them and how they can contribute towards a team atmosphere.
  6. Allow more break time in your agenda – some trustees feel more comfortable raising questions or expressing a contrary view or a new idea in a less formal setting or with a smaller audience. When you do meet in person, could you add an extra coffee break into the agenda or allow a bit more time for lunch?
  7. Don’t just get straight down to business on calls – when time is tight, it can be tempting to launch straight into the first item of business as soon as everyone is online. However, taking just a few minutes for niceties and a bit of a chat can help set a positive tone for the meeting and make the whole discussion much more collaborative and productive.
  8. Take a moment to celebrate your successes (and share the losses) – teams win, lose and draw as a team and it should be the same for Trustee boards. Taking a moment together to recognise both the things that have gone well (like getting a tricky valuation process over the line) and the things that didn’t quite come off (such as buy-in pricing turning out to be just out of reach) can really help bolster team spirit.
  9. Assess your teamworking – assessing how well the team is working will help give you a better idea of how it’s going and identify areas to improve. Could you incorporate this into your trustee effectiveness reviews and/or ask for feedback when trustees step down?
  10. Say thank you – trustees put in a lot of effort. Thanking people for their time, effort and contribution helps them feel like a valued and recognised member of the team, especially where they’ve gone the extra mile, for example, sitting on a sub-committee or taking a lead project role. Anyone who volunteers to take on GMP equalisation probably deserves a medal!

So yes, perhaps we will have to work harder on trustee teambuilding in future. A few small changes could make your trustee board more effective, more collaborative, more inclusive and, dare I say, more fun.

Watching a great team in action, such as the Lionesses throughout the World Cup, really demonstrate that it is undoubtedly worth the effort.

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