Some Thoughts on Governance Reform

It's a new year! And many sport organizations are considering making changes to their governance structure. These are the ingredients for success as we see them (based on our experience doing this type of change work with many NSOs, most recently RCGA/Golf Canada, Canadian PGA and Gymnastics Canada, and more distantly, Swimming Natation Canada, Athletics Canada and Equine Canada):

  • To succeed, the project requires a significant educational component. By this, we mean using various opportunities to inform the members and stakeholders through reading materials, in-person presentations and discussions. They need to have a broad understanding of the topic of governance.
  • The organization has to be ready to consider change. Usually this readiness comes as a result of some crisis, either sudden or gradual. However, in a state of crisis there may not exist the necessary climate of trust. Confirming readiness is not an exact science.
  • A phased project is recommended: firstly, educate and share; secondly, find agreement on guiding principles; and thirdly, find agreement on practices/organizational structure designs. If you rush to the structural changes, without doing the homework, you will be perceived as pushing through some specific agenda.
  • Take the pulse along the way. Ideally, at every opportunity do quick little questionnaires/feedback forms to gauge attitudes about governance change. These have been very useful as a project has unfolded (especially in the ‘political’ sense, as we can remind the members of what they said to us previously through these surveys).
  • The process cannot be rushed. Like any good ‘home renovation’ one usually has to increase both the time and the budget to complete the project successfully.
  • The project needs a champion (or champions). An existing Governance Committee may be that group, or an individual charismatic leader (ether professional or volunteer). The champion(s) have to be willing to put in the work and time on this, and they also need excellent support from staff.

It must also be noted that governance is more than the just the composition of the Board. We encourage organizations to consider a broader scope for their projects including the mandate of the board; committee structure (board committees vs. operating committees); accountability and reporting frameworks; board-staff relations; succession planning for the board; committees and key staff; nomination procedures; as well as clarifying the relationship between the NSO and its provincial counterparts.

Originally published: Centre for Sport and Law website (January 2011)

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