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What Leadership Roles Should be on the "Bencom" Board?

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

First circulated by NFA on Oct 6th, 2023

INTRODUCTION

This blog is to stimulate some thinking and invite your engagement on what the leadership roles might be in Bencom’s upcoming s/election. How do we create a balanced Board with the skills to really serve the community well?

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It mirrors the one I did on the Facebook News group. If you would like my stuff straight to your inbox sign up here! (This is a basic introduction to roles on Boards and thinking about our community so if you already have a professional or sophisticated understanding it may be a bit simple for you and it is written very informally as it was a FB blog).


This essay should supplement Maria Cooper’s survey* on skills nicely. *Update: and it was great to see the results of Maria’s survey a few nights ago - with responses from 80 people who (from memory) had at the top of their wanted list: leaders who listen to community, have a serious spiritual practice, have empathy, and have culture change skills.)


Why the Lens of Roles?

The reason to look through the lens of roles is that once we have the roles then it is easy to define the skillsets and track records required for them. From there it is easy to s/elect people for specific roles. We map their track records and experiences against what each role requires to ensure they are well-qualified.


This is a recruiter’s approach to recruiting leadership teams.


STANDARD CHARITY ROLES

Three or four standard roles for a Community Benefit Society or Charity are below:


1. Executive Chair

This is like a Chair and Executive Director (ED) rolled into one. - i.e., an Executive Chair does the full time job of making it happen - rather than simply manage Board meetings.

The alternative is to have a non-executive Chair overseeing a hired “Focaliser” (Executive Director / CEO / General Manager – choose your word) but usually then you’d be paying that additional person a salary, unless they were willing and able to work for free.


2. Treasurer

This role looks after the books, financial reporting, budgeting, financial sustainability. The job is not a focused money maker or an entrepreneur, it’s more like an accountant / skilled quantitative person, to manage finances sensibly.


3. Company Secretary

In a “Bencom” this role is likely to be the Member Secretary as well - looking after the Members, verifying them, looking after voting, the share database, etc.


But a Company Secretary (who doesn't always have to be on the Board) looks after lots of the legal stuff around meeting notices, minutes of Board meetings, etc.


4. Deputy Chair or Co-Chair

This role is for resiliency (back up for holidays, sickness, etc).


Personally, I quite like the dual structure of co-Chairs, like NFA LCs, if they can form a good working relationship, and I quite like gender balance (see footnote 4) here.


These standard roles would then be four out of the five we are s/electing for in November.


Additional Granular Questions

Some questions that arise from this:

  • Should we start with these usual roles?

  • Should we have a Co-Chair or a Deputy?

  • If so (Co or Deputy), should it be gender diverse / balanced?

  • Should we have a non-executive Chair (part-time role) and separately hire an Executive Director?

  • Should we, in reality, wrap the role around the availability and skillset of who is actually in our candidate pool up here – i.e., “it depends”?

Because recruiting isn't done in a vacuum. In the end, what it comes down to is who is really available to choose from, in a pool of flawed humans / imperfect candidates!


Hierarchy or Not?

For me, the above questions also raise the issue of hierarchy. Many are anti-hierarchy here, but I think gentle hierarchy can be beneficial, and facilitative like a good, kind, empowering, fun but focused, KP or Kitchen-focaliser. It helps when you know what your role is, in my view. Without hierarchy, and with some people working very few hours or none, and others full-time, you run into power struggles, mismatches in expectations, delays and difficulties, as I experienced in the interim situation prior to the election coming up. Clear role definition and reporting lines, solves that and makes for a well-functioning team, especially if there is alignment on vision.

For me it helps to know ultimately who is in charge and how roles interact with each other.

Hierarchy doesn't have to be dominating command and control, military style - in my book it can be empowering, servant-leader style, and reduce conflict.


DIFFERING VISIONS FOR BENCOM NEED DIFFERENT SKILLS

Even before looking at roles, you might ask well “what are we trying to achieve with Bencom?”.


The answer to that determines the kinds of roles we need, or the skills relevant to them.


Here are what I can distinguish as the three visions around at the moment, for Bencom.


1. Bencom Lite

Bencom is just here to buy or receive the land and then hand-off to other community organisations like PET and Duneland. (Roughly speaking I think this is Michael Shaw’s).


2. Duneland Mark 2 (Community Owned)

Bencom is here to buy the land and then develop it and it needs as much of it as possible to do a good job of developing it. (Roughly speaking this is John Talbott’s I believe, I’m not sure if he wants to do a kind of village unifying / “barn-raising” via a build school approach or just develop. I like the former and so would lots of young people!).

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3. Community-Led Community Revival

Bencom is the way to a full community revival, via community member empowerment and regular, deep, proper listening and inclusion, with servant-leadership plugging everyone in.

Bencom’s job is to help draw out a Common Vision, rather than a few people charging off with their vision, working through our differences skillfully, and then actually manifest that vision because it (we the community, its members) actually own something, that we can do something with.


Bencom helps simplify, unify around a Common Vision, and is a vehicle for governance over actual land and property, rather than a free-floating governance structure. This harder to do (!), “High Dream” vision, is what gets me excited about Bencom.


I think Maria’s too is all about listening to the community and seeing what emerges.


Either way, I think it would be pretty sensible to be clear on what any leaders proposed for roles, actually have as their vision, so you know what you are choosing.


Do they envision something like our previous trustee led models, without too much community input in reality, or are they going for something different, with deep community listening baked in?


Do they have track record in whichever version of vision it is they stand for?


WHAT SHOULD DIRECTOR ROLES 5-9 BE?

Assuming for the moment we go for the usual four roles - well - what should the fifth be?


And, thinking ahead to the full nine Directors that Bencom is proposing (just five though for November), what could several more be?


The rest of this essay is my opinions and thinking through a few types of roles.


Your thoughts on these are what is important but hopefully the structure below kicks off some thinking/feeling/tuning in. The below is simnply to get the conversation started.


Roughly speaking I see four types of roles:


i) Cross-Organisational Unity

ii) Key Skills Required

iii) "Representational" Interest Groups

iv) Outside Board Directors

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1. Cross-Organisational (Unity) Roles

A cross-organisational unity role is about having a relevant organisation (org) have a role on Bencom’s Board for unity, collaboration and information transfer.


Personally, I wouldn’t recommend all the organisations have seats, as these Board seats are scarce, but I do think the biggest membership org (NFA) and ‘internal tax’ org (THA) have cases for a seat.


NFA?

Having the NFA LC or delegate have an automatic place on the Board of Bencom makes sense to me. NFA is the longest elected body in existence here, biggest membership, widest community body, with community buy-in, generally speaking, great at holding big meetings, runs elections, etc., which Bencom will need to do.


THA?

On the same grounds, and especially given HOCO "internal tax" payments should THA also have an automatic seat? How do mobile homeowners and renters feel about that?


FF Trustee?

And here is a probably controversial idea and probably one that can't really be executed because of conflict of interests:

If Bencom has to get on really well with FF Trustees for this to work (and it does - FF Trustees get to choose to sell or not sell, so the FF Trustee relationship and very close future partnership is fundamentally important, nothing happens without it) - should Terry or a current Trustee or ex FF Trustee have a transitional seat on the Board for 6-12 months? (Recused of course for any price negotiations or conflicts?)

2. Important Skills / Community Needs-Based Roles

Whatever you think of cross-org unity roles I see the following skills-based roles being relevant, although the second and third ones maybe don’t need to be on Bencom’s Board – maybe they are more a question of fundamental orientation and commitment.

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Chief Money Maker for the Good of the Whole (!).

The buyout organisation needs to make money, to pay for its staff, to pay for the community benefit buildings (community centre; child and family building; renovated or new craft studios; youth housing, affordable housing, to pay for leaving some areas to nature; to pay for the farm (Cullerne) if we get it, to make Cluny work financially if we get it, etc, etc.)


A Chief Revenue Officer / Entrepreneur needs social-eco-ethical impact business experience and success track record (ideally with development but not just this) - because only with success in the various ways of making money that make sense here (to then subsidise all the good things we want), can we properly pay for what is needed.


This brings me (for balance) straight to:


Spiritual Director?

Is this a Board role or could this be a group of wisdom keepers, lineage keepers and mentors who worked with founders deeply, including external people like David Spangler and the internal ones who held that thread with Eileen?


(For example I tried recruiting Mary Inglis, she needs more persuasion, or perhaps a team of wise ones. I know Liza Hollingshead, who worked closely with Eileen is interested in this idea. I could see others like Jonathan Caddy, John Willoner, etc, holding this long-term lineage and "DNA" focus.)


This seems very important to me, if we just get lost in making money for survival without staying focused on what it is we are trying to serve and bringing into the world here, then what’s the point?


For me, we are not just about the material, the material is to serve the spiritual here.


We, of course, need competence in the material realm as recent events have shown, but the spiritual is the essence. It’s both / and, for me.


We once upon a time had Core Group here who sort of paralleled the management team or advised it, as a kind of Eileen replacement I believe.


So - does Spiritual Director (or Nature Listening for that matter) get a Board Seat?


Not incidentally, this spiritual /material question is why I would be concerned if the new SCIO just gives most of its assets to NFD rather than gives / sells them to a community member-owned, led and overseen organisation. Because NFD is not community member based /elected. It doesn’t have the

deep spiritual tradition that is held in the membership body here, via our long-term, serving-the-divine elders and long term community/ Foundation ex-members / staff here. NFD has done good things and hopefully will do many more, but it isn’t the community, spiritually governing itself, to our Common Vision. It also has had problems with irregularities about money in the past.


Here’s another one skills/needs one I think is super important:


Chief Community Visioning Drawer Forth and
Polarity/Conflict Resolution and Positive Culture Holder/Creator

Maybe this is less about being a Board seat and more about being a committed focus of the organisation, facilitated by external professionals?


You get my drift - who is handling the deep social psychological group work type stuff to get us to Common Vision and past shadow projections to a healthy spiritual and psychological culture again?


On the positive culture side - who is doing the positive culture building work, not just processing the difficult stuff?


For example, to build a positive culture - should we have a mass community Experience Weekend once a month, or at least the fun touchy feely bonding games bit, so we remember that unconditional love, beyond conflict, some/many of us felt after FX?


(How come the guests get all the fun?!).


How do we heal our culture and rebuild unity, coherence, and shared purpose and vision? (Village “barn-raising” anyone - physical work with actual results has a remarkable effect on bonding I find?)


This role, of course, doesn't have to be on the Board, but it does speak to something fundamental that seems needed here, to me at least, in these difficult times.

The role could be an external facilitator or supervisor.


The role could be a hired staff role as opposed to the Board.


And it probably should be a team of facilitators using all the tools at our disposal, PoP, constellations, the Game, Forum, Hubl, etc, etc and more, i.e., like a new S&PD, but for the whole community not just FF staff.


I have written extensively about it because this is one that I care about.


But this may not be your vision for what we do as a community together and certainly not through Bencom!


I focused on this partly because I think it’s needed to get to community revival and to Common Vision, and from that to a Common Plan that people agree to for our development.


A short-term basic version would be to have community listening processes baked into the bye-laws so it is not just a small Board deciding again but really will be community-led

development focused on a community Common Vision, deeply informed by spiritual

processes, not just this intellectual stuff.


3. Important Interest Group "Representative" Roles

Then we have the specific interest groups we might want to focus on. Here are some I think are important, you will have yours:


  • Young Adults Under 30

  • Elders (care)

  • Children & Families

  • Financially Challenged/Needing Secure Housing

  • A Voice for Nature (All our Relations)

  • Local (eg Moray) Non-Residents

  • Global Diaspora


For me, community "strategically" important interest group Reps make much more sense than Park geographic districts. But I think the so called Bencom “Contributor Members” (non-residents), definitely need representation, because they have a voice rather than a vote, so in that specific case I think a Rep makes sense.


And many ex-members or repeat guests (both who built this place over the years) who live all over the world also want a voice.


The trouble is if you had a seat for each of these it is easy to see that the Bencom Board will be unwieldy and far more than 5 or 9, so it looks to me like we need an Advisory Council, and perhaps this is something the governance Group could evolve their work towards.


4. Outside Board Candidates

There are also some amazing outside Board candidates - people we know like Anna Kovasna, of course, but also for instance the ex-Head of Worker Democracy in John Lewis who Peter Vallance introduced me to and other similar leaders with external skills who are used to helping more community orientated, co-operative type, "businesses" and whose wisdom we could benefit from.


It’s healthy for Boards to have outside parties on them and for us not to be insular.


Small or Large Board?

You can see already that this Board could ger too big and unwieldy with this many roles. So, what are the absolute priority?


Advisory Council?

Is one solution to have all these reps (or whatever the community’s top choices are) as an Advisory Council rather than on the Board, so it can stay small and nimble?


But then do we trust a small Board to really listen? How do we lock that in?


Bye Laws Ensuring Community Listening?

Can that be baked into the Bye Laws, or is about the people you choose, and their public commitments and leadership style and values and then you trust them to get on with it?


So, I guess it becomes obvious from the process above, once you start thinking about roles, what you are really thinking about is who are we, what do we want to be, what focii (focus) do we want to have, what mix of interest group representatives, versus bread and butter skills roles to run and pay for the thing, versus cross-org unification reps, do we need?


And which of these need to be on the Board versus which need to be hired into the org as part of management or staff versus some kind of Advisory Council?


COMMUNITY LEADERSHIP ROLES WORKING GROUP?

It's hard to tease all the above out in polls so to me this suggests we need a deeper, nuanced, approach, maybe like the Working Group on Governance?


How about a Working Group on Role Definition and Recruiting for our future?


This is something that fits nicely with the Visioning that is coming up in mid-November, but ideally, needs to happen before the Bencom election of early November?


Adapted from 27th September blog on FB Park Self-Ownership Group.
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