As a chairman who had never worked with elected representatives before, I knew chairing a council of governors meeting would be a personal challenge.
I prepared myself for the meeting in several ways, such as by seeking the experience of other chairmen in my area. I know a number of people who have been councillors for many years and through informal meetings with them I was able to pick up tips and benefit from their experience of working with elected bodies.
In the run up to the election process I decided to hold a series of locally publicised evening events with supper and wine where interested members of the public could come and view the hospital, meet the board of directors, get a feel for its culture and decide whether they wanted to be a part of the organisation. This proved to be a success as a number of those invited subsequently stood for election. There were additional benefits too, as some people became members of the foundation trust or volunteered to fundraise for us after their visit.
Once elected, I organised a welcome evening in our outpatient department, again giving the board and governors a chance to mingle while appreciating the environment and plans for one of the busiest areas of the hospital.
At this event, the chief executive and I updated the governors on progress with our application, our confidence and our concerns. We had also compiled an induction pack that included a brief history of the hospital, some biographical details of the board, our strategy and plans, and a brief overview of the services we provide.
I spent time with each of the 26 governors in the period between application and license, where we discussed our motivations for being involved in the hospital and I learned of each governor's expectations and aspirations for the role. I really valued these sessions, which allowed me to identify with the governors shared anxieties about the role as well as individual and shared training needs.
The sessions have proved valuable one year after license in helping to assess where and when it was best to use the varying talents of individual governors. They also enabled me to design some specific "teach-in" sessions on some aspects of NHS business that were of particular concern, such as "NHS finance and performance", "What is an FT, and how does it differ from an NHS trust?", "Our strategy, our future" and "What does Birmingham Children's Hospital do and who does it serve?"
I also ran a few introductory meetings for governors, which included "What is the role of the governor?". At this session, I invited long-serving governors from a couple of local hospitals to talk about their roles and the activities they were involved in and asked our non-executive directors to describe their responsibilities.
From the outset, this helped to develop a clear understanding of the differing roles of NEDs and governors. Governors fed back that these sessions had helped them focus on their statutory responsibilities and allayed fears they had around getting involved in detailed scrutiny of the trust's business.
Throughout our application process and since gaining the FT license, the governors have been included in all of our corporate events from the opening of our new burns, neonatal surgery and education centre to thanking our fundraisers and attending religious services. My aim has been to open up the trust to them, for them to see it at work and for them to meet as many staff and supporters as possible.
These events have helped to build up a picture of the organisation they are a part of and to enable them to be advocates, to grow and develop membership and to widen knowledge of our work and future plans.
Our investment in each other over the first year has started to pay off now. We are an open and interactive group, more at ease with other styles of working and more knowledgeable about what each person brings to the council. We are beginning to harness the collective talent - there is more to do but it is a rewarding journey.