Building A Better Board

The Board is ultimately responsible for the direction and performance of their organisation. How do you spot a Board that isn’t working at its best?

Stacy Zeiger in the Chron lists 10 indicators that a Board might be dysfunctional. These include hostility, lack of confidentiality, lack of order and respect, dominating or not engaging in conversations, conflicting agendas and a lack of trust.  We would argue that lack of trust is what underlies all of the other symptoms. As Stephen Covey has written “Trust is not a soft, social virtue.  It’s a hard, economic driver for every organisation.” 

Patrick Lencioni’s iconic book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, outlines factors that apply just as well to a Board as they do to a team.  These are:

  1. Absence of trust—unwilling to be vulnerable within the group
  2. Fear of conflict—seeking artificial harmony over constructive passionate debate
  3. Lack of commitment—feigning buy-in for group decisions creates ambiguity throughout the organisation
  4. Avoidance of accountability—ducking the responsibility to identify bad decisions, own outcomes and call peers on counterproductive behaviour sets low standards
  5. Inattention to results—focusing on personal success, status and ego before team success.

If a Board cannot work at creating trust between Board members and between the Board and the organisation’s management, the other factors will follow.

Preferences and Perspectives can derail relationships

What we have seen that most commonly drives dysfunction in a Board (and any team) is that individuals become too narrow in their view and interaction with the people around them.  We all have preferences for the way we work and communicate with others and the stronger these preferences, the harder it can be to work with people who have different preferences.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t work with people who are different but, just as the saying “when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail” goes, when you’re an analytical person, everything looks like it needs more detail, when you’re a creative person, everything looks like an opportunity and so on.

Often we can feel irrationally threatened by people who have different perspectives from ours. The other person may merely be trying to communicate their approach and solution to a problem, as opposed to putting you down. However, we resist being pulled from our way of thinking into an area of incompetence or inexperience and so tend to dig our heels in and resist the other person.

The first step is to understand your preferences and those of the people with whom you work. Once you understand these you can start to establish how best to use the strengths each person brings to the table and start to build trust and address all of Lencioni’s five dysfunctions.

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