Updated: Sep 22
Suneet Sharma is a trustee of It Gets Better UK and co-Chair of the SEGA LGBTQ+ Employee Network.
As a mental health advocate Suneet focuses on eradicating stigma and is an ambassador of video games mental health charity Safe In Our World. He is also a legal executive.
My diagnosis of depression colours my approach to things
Mental illness is seen as something that just happens to you and that you don't have agency but being on the board of a mental health charity has helped me change the focus on it. It allowed me to be vulnerable myself and turn it into a strength. By sharing my experiences at board level I know that I’m helping other people.
Meeting other trustees before your first board meeting pays dividends
The chair held a social event about a month before my first board meeting as part of my induction. I met the three other new trustees beforehand and we went through some introductory slides about the charity and played some getting to know you games. After the social we were added to the trustees WhatsApp group. This paid dividends at the board meeting as I already had a feel for the social dynamics.
Do your research before your first board meeting
I would advise you to prepare well. Put yourself forward and take ownership of the trustee role. I would have struggled without working through the papers carefully. I’d also done my own research so I knew what position my fellow trustees held and what they did within the board.
The sheer volume of work in a single meeting took me by surprise
I had prepared thoroughly by having a chat with the chair beforehand and I’d read the minutes so I knew the structure but It was a very full on meeting covering a broad range of subjects from finance to social media and social media reports and then compliance.
I learn a lot from my fellow trustees
One of them is from a project management background so I’m learning about how to break down something into its constituent parts and then present them to the board. I’m also learning from the chair how to manage the different personalities and how to make the most of a board meeting and summarise key headlines with useful context that is not necessarily in the papers.
Power sharing is often about levelling the playing field
Our chair makes sure everyone gets to contribute in an equal and measured way. They know who is the attentive listener and who is the bigger speaker. It’s amazing to see those different personality types become more pronounced in the board meeting. The chair makes sure there is cohesion in the conversation and makes sure everyone has a chance to speak.
Conflict on boards is necessary
But it needs to be constructive. People need to have the right space to do this. At board meetings the chair will bring other people's opinions in if he knows they're contrasting. so He's someone who can navigate the board and is good at conflict management. He's very aware of the dynamics between different trustees.
You have to balance the short-term objectives with the long-term when you think about length of stay
It’s important to have diverse ideas and fresh talent onto the board regularly but also make sure you’re getting the most out of the incumbent trustees. On the board we have four members who have been there for a while so they know the ins and out of the charity. Having seen how much I’ve done in the last few years I think a minimum of 3-4 and max of 6 possibly 7 years works well.
It’s good practice to bring up new items before the meeting rather than bringing them up under Any Other Business
I wanted to discuss data protection so it was a heavy topic to get into at the end of a meeting. Because I raised it beforehand with the chair and it had its own agenda point, everyone was able to ask very important questions about best practice and time scales for delivery. It was good for me too because I got a real flavour from my presentation that people acknowledged my presence and valued my contribution.
Communicating outside of board meetings is important
We have communication through Whatsapp social outside of meetings. The board meetings are hard, because there’s a lot of work to be done. You need to be having those casual conversations as well where you get valuable snippets of conversations and ideas. It's important because it reflects good governance.
Even if it’s outside of your wheelhouse don't be afraid to try and develop the skills you have
There's a need in smaller charities for trustees to build their holistic skill set. I knew from the staff it was very trustee-led and that was a benefit to me because I wanted to get my teeth stuck into it and make measurable change.
I approached becoming a trustee with the end in mind
You have to know what you want to get to and how to get there. It’s like viewing the interview as the start of a flight of stairs: you know it'll be hard work getting up them but when you get to the top it'll be extremely rewarding. I've entrenched good sustainable governance at all the charities I’ve been involved in to ensure that they meet their charitable aims, and their growing needs. That’s my legacy.
Suneet Sharma was speaking to Getting on Board's Communications Director Fiona McAuslan.
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