13 Five S’s of Governance: Wearing your Support Hat.

Many years ago, Julia Unwin (Joseph Rowntree Foundation) did a talk at which she introduced her “5 S’s of Governance”. These are five ways or ‘modes’ in which boards/committees or even individual trustees can act or behave.  I’ve started calling them the five ‘hats’ – you can put on a different ‘hat’ each time you want to operate in a different mode.

Here is her description of all 5 S’s (as a .pdf).

It’s worth thinking about each of the 5 S’s in depth.  You might find your board tends to function in a limited number of these ‘behaviours’ and ignores others. Or maybe a particular trustee is strong in one way of thinking but not others.

My suggested technique is to learn about all five and then ensure that each board meeting ‘chooses’ a ‘hat’ to wear for a part of that meeting.  The questions and discussions that arise whilst ‘wearing that hat’ may help you to learn or uncover something or other.  Or perhaps assess your own skills and approach against the 5 S’s.


The description (from Julia):

There are times when the function of the board is to support. Not just to encourage the executive,
but also to enable the executive team to work by ensuring that the infrastructure of the
organisation works, that staff are employed, that systems work, and also that they are encouraged
and enabled to do their work. Boards in support mode say:
Have you got what you need to do that?
We really ought to celebrate that.
We really can’t allow you to be treated like that.

More comment and information coming soon…


This guide is just an introduction to Support at this stage. The guide will be updated with more relevant information over time and it’s an opportunity for you to suggest your ideas or ask questions to help us grow this knowledge bank.

But for now, put the Support ‘hat’ on regularly to ensure you operate in the right ‘mode’.