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The Effective Secretariat Finding Your Rhythm

The Effective Secretariat - Finding Your Rhythm

Thursday, 28 September 2023

By Madeleine Cordes, Client Director, EQ

Madeleine Cordes Madeleine Cordes Client Director, EQ

In our recent webinar The Effective Company Secretariat, we explored the key facets of running an effective secretariat.

  • Members of secretariat teams need to be able to switch between management, leadership, and action modes.
  • Technology should be embraced to improve efficiency and effectiveness.
  • A team rhythm can help, particularly when navigating more chaotic periods.
  • Secretariat teams need to demonstrate their value to raise their profile and become more empowered within organisation.
  • Boards members are key stakeholders, they rely on secretariat teams, so focusing on building strong working relationships is key. 

The webinar offered a mix of practical tips to take away as well as details into the broader considerations of the company secretarial function.

Polls run throughout the session provided valuable insights into the experiences of attendees.

Interestingly, a majority believed that the most challenging aspect of running an effective secretariat is that other departments do not understand the team’s role. In response to this, the panel members suggested various ways of raising the profile of the secretariat and opening channels of communication, including introduction and induction sessions, and clarifying the split of roles and responsibilities between teams.

Suggested steps in developing the effectiveness of secretariat included conducting a self-appraisal and engaging in some navel gazing. Specific areas to focus on would be people, technology, processes and reporting, stakeholders and core duties and competencies.

Webinar key insights and takeaways

Leadership and teams: find your rhythm and know when to change it

It is essential for heads of secretariat to be able to pivot from management to leadership within the team. This includes giving consideration to behaviours and culture as well as the ‘stuff of doing’. Understanding when and how team members need to play the leader or manager roles – irrespective of seniority within the team – is important, and all team members should be encouraged to take the role of leader at times.

Considering the ‘team rhythm’ and how much time is currently spent or needs to be spent together to connect and build relationships, hold team meetings, and share knowledge is a good step to strengthening the team. Things move quickly – both within companies and through regulation and guidance – so it is essential to establish this rhythm and be prepared to tweak it in response to new and changing priorities. As Moya Hayhurst, Head of Corporate Governance at Canopius Group, commented, ‘good leaders will create calm direction through what might feel like day-to-day chaos.’ Make sure the team stays relevant and allow mistakes to be made and learned from.

While we have taken on the more valued adviser role, company secretarial teams do need to be good at organisation and administration as well. Take advantage of technology to improve effectiveness; the panel mentioned the use of tools such as Teams chat groups and artificial intelligence (AI) to reduce the pain of drafting minutes. Engaging with the information technology (IT) department will be crucial to implementing these in the way that works for each secretariat team, in alignment with internal policies.

Placement in the organisational context: keep informing the business of your role and value

Breaking down silos and barriers, sharing knowledge and skills within the team and making it clear who is responsible for what are vital to avoiding ambiguity and unexpected gaps. (Moya’s idea of 'team buckets' setting out the split of responsibilities between team members for all to see was brilliant.) Setting and monitoring team and individual objectives and helping team members to understand their value and where their role fits into the bigger picture were recommended actions.

This applies equally to small and large teams and teams based overseas and managed remotely. Sometimes, secretariat team effectiveness may be stifled if they are not given a sufficient mandate or empowered within the organisational culture. This is when the ability and willingness to manage up with line managers and boards is essential. This is a prime opportunity to showcase influencing skills.

Keeping the team visible within your organisation and being accessible, relevant, and engaged are also key to gaining recognition of their value. In this way, the company secretarial department can become the first port of call for the board and other stakeholders, as well as helping to demonstrate effective management of compliance risks.

Stakeholder (board!) engagement: you’re there to support

Results of a poll showing that 74% of webinar participants thought that it was most important for the company secretary to have a good relationship with the board.

When it came to stakeholders, attendees felt that the board was the most important group with whom to have a good relationship.

As Laura Higgins from the Co Sec Coach commented following the webinar: ‘The non-executive perspective was reassuring – hearing first-hand how we are valued. The job can feel thankless at times. Our value comes primarily in reassuring the board that we understand and know the rules and regulations and stay up to date with trends, as well as being accessible for advice and acting as a sounding board for board members, often outside the formal meetings.’

Poll results showing that 56% of webinar attendees believed that NEDs most value the role of company secretaries in keeping abreast of trends and knowing the rules.

Maddie stressed the importance of having one-to-one time with non-executives, especially when they are taking on a new role such as chairing a committee.

Team evaluation: consider the collective key traits

Webinar attendees were left with a suggested check list to take away. It provided key words which can be used to frame questions when evaluating teams. The list recommends giving consideration to whether the team is:

  • flexible
  • empowered
  • competent
  • responsive
  • accessible
  • well led
  • dynamic
  • dysfunctional (if ‘yes’, why?)
  • aligned