While many organisations are familiar with the basic work that company secretaries do in ensuring compliance with standard financial and legal practice and maintaining the highest corporate governance standards, far fewer businesses realise the potential a company secretarial service has to assist in making their board more effective.

With company secretaries being important points of communication between directors and company shareholders, they are in a strong position to help with regard to matters such as the composition of a board, a board playing to the strength of its directors and the resolution of board management conflicts. A company secretary service may also be of value in the clarification of roles and responsibilities and the structure and organisation of a board’s work.

Board composition, for example, is a subject that has attracted much comment in recent years, particularly in relation to gender diversity and quotas. However, diversity is only one consideration in the composition of the most effective board, with organisations often assembling boards of ‘achievers’ and ‘alphas’ who may have strong individual backgrounds and track records, but not necessarily a great ability to work together in a team.

A company secretary can make a positive difference in establishing the existing board’s strengths, weaknesses, role behaviours and areas of knowhow, before urging the chosen headhunter to design a process for interviewing and testing candidates that puts such criteria at the forefront. Both more traditional interview techniques and validated psychometric tests are potentially relevant here.

A company secretary could exert much positive influence in the leveraging of the strengths of board members and encouraging board members to identify the personal strengths of themselves and fellow executives. Many company secretaries can also help to better define the roles, responsibilities and tasks that apply to individual board members.

With many executives below board level having been educated at leading universities or business schools, they may have strong ideas of their own about the direction of the company, potentially leading to open conflict with board members. Again, the company secretary can play a key role in minimising conflicts by encouraging investment in conflict resolution skills.

Great company secretaries will help boards to become better structured and organised by encouraging the establishment of a common vision for the organisation as a whole, no business should undervalue the potentially instrumental role of the right company secretary service.