One size fits all? The governance lifecycle
Big Business
One size fits all? The governance lifecycle
One size fits all? The governance lifecycle
Sole Trader

One size fits all? The governance lifecycle
An approach to assessing types of governance at different points in an organisation’s lifecycle

The big idea

Consider the following statements:

  • The governing body must operate within clearly established policies and guidelines
  • The governing body has an optimal size of between 9 and 12 members
  • The governing body must be objective and distanced from the day-to-day workings of the business
  • The governing body should use sub-committees to undertake detailed activity, specific projects and/or monitoring
  • Members of the governing body should have clear terms of office

On the surface, these might all appear to be perfectly reasonable statements of good practice. However, what they don’t take account of is the context of the business at a given time. It could be said that businesses, like other organisms, go through lifecycles: they require a different approach to governance depending on the stage your business has reached. In his paper, Act Your Age, Mike Burns (2010)proposes a lifecycle of four stages:

  • Infancy (start-up or start-over)
  • Juvenile (growth)
  • Adolescence (growth and decline spurts)
  • Maturity (established)

During each of these stages, the governing body is likely to exhibit different behaviours and approaches.

There is no guarantee that the governing body will move seamlessly from stage to stage as the business evolves. In fact it is possible that it will lag behind the developing organisation. It is also possible that some governing bodies may never reach the maturity phase or it could revert to previous behaviours. This is most likely if there are still members of the founding group involved.


The purpose of this tool is to allow you to consider the lifecycle of your organisation and what that means in relation to your governing body. It should help you to clarify respective roles and expectations as well as consider any change management issues as the business matures.

The Tool

This tool takes you through a number of steps to understand where your business is in its lifecycle. You can then consider what that means for your governing body. You can complete the steps relatively quickly but you may need to gather additional information as you go. It can be completed on your own or with your chair or governing body as a whole.