Let’s Talk About What Makes A Really Effective Board!

A really effective Super Performing Board understands its’ purpose, has full cognisance of the challenges it faces.

It’s driven to be productive and has members who are individually and collectively skilled in ensuring their contributions have real value.

An effective Board has to be greater than the sum of its’ parts, so there is no room for ‘Loafing’ or disengagement on the one hand, or ‘Grandstanding’ behaviour by members on the other.

However, as a Board member should you be concerned about individual behaviour and its’ impact on group dynamics and decision-making in the Boardroom?

And do you think there is sufficient guidance on appropriate behaviours and would you know where to go and look to find it?

A Recent review of Board Rooms

Not so long ago, a Boardroom review by the Institute of Chartered Secretaries & Administrators(ISCA) came up with very similar findings to reviews carried out in response to the financial crisis in 2008.

Simply put not a lot has really changed in the past 8 years & in spite of much rhetoric and some action there still remains an absence of cogent guidance on appropriate Boardroom behaviours in particular.

To many this represents a continuing structural weakness in the system, for an effective Board is more than just a successful team and cannot be brought into being by simply transposing management team type behaviours.

The roles are markedly different and the behaviours & attributes that are required to deliver an effective Board are both exacting and driven by the various Codes of Governance which relate to a multitude of companies and organisations.

All this goes beyond a mere list of ‘Standards for a Board’, accompanied perhaps by a Spec of the essential and most desirable Technical & Adaptive Skills.

One of the defining parts of a Board’s role

Is quite simply, that each member is responsible for the overall welfare of the company or organisation, rather than just for a specific or vested interest, even if an interested party has elected that individual to the Board.

However, as those familiar with the work of Psychologists such as Lowell Gaertner on how we distinguish ourselves both as individuals and within groups & cliques know, we can be predisposed to experiencing difficulty in leaving our affiliations at the door, or seeing an issue from another perspective.

A natural tendency

There is also the natural tendency for an individual to focus on their immediate profile above that of the group, which can surface and manifest itself in ‘Grandstanding’ type behaviour & posturing.

So what can a Board do to heighten its’ productivity and operate at a level that is greater than the sum of its’ parts?

There needs to be a greater awareness on the part of all members of the role they are playing.

Everyone also needs to understand the role of the Chair in facilitating and drawing out the full engagement of each of the members for the benefit of the company or organisation.

As well as high levels of engagement, there needs to be an environment of high challenge and cognitive conflict, which forcibly militates against any tendencies towards bias and attribution which can lead to ‘Group Think’ i.e. put simply a situation can be created, perhaps almost unwittingly on the part of some, where the group colludes to hold a stable, but exaggerated perception of what is right and where its’ interests lie.

Developments to satisfy recent EU directives, mean that Banks and other major financial institutions are now be required to set a target for the, “Representation of the under represented gender on the management body”. But will this work?

Will an obligation for companies in the UK Financial Sector to have a comprehensive diversity strategy regarding all Boardroom opportunities actually deliver at least part of the change that many of us want to see?

Certainly there is a strong case for having diverse Board membership, as well as for having Board members with highly flexible mindsets.

An effective Board member will need to be able to move between providing direction to providing assurance, between being interrogative and then being supportive, &, between providing insight and asking the down right obvious questions.

There is also a strong case for moving away from the ‘Typology of Board Member’ approach, where we are looking for specific disciplines or professional expertise to create an ‘Ideal Board’, as this doesn’t address the issue of whether the behaviours and personal attributes of Board members are being delivered.

Rather with this model you are acquiring and then compounding a set of atypical behaviours likely to quickly norm and then act in predictable ways that can coalesce and lead to low challenge, low engagement & low productivity.

In conclusion, I believe that an effective Board needs to ask itself some fundamental question, such as:

  • Are we a team, a collection of peers and equals, or a cohort of individuals?
  • Do/should we have rules to guide our debates and what value do/would these add to the decision-making process?
  • Is there an identifiable mix of personalities that this Board needs?
  • What does our relationship look like with the Executive Directors of the company/organisation?
  • What does the relationship look like between the Chair and the rest of the Board?
  • How does the Chair respond to and influence Board members behaviour?
  • How do we evaluate, examine and improve our behaviour as a Board?
  • Is there an ideal mix of positive Board behaviours and how do we avoid/deal with negative behaviour? & finally
  • How do I know if I’m displaying positive Board behaviour?

Paul Mudd is the author of ‘Uncovering Mindfulness: In Search Of A Life More Meaningful’ available on Amazon and www.bookboon.com; the ‘Coffee & A Cup of Mindfulness’ and the ‘Mindful Hacks For Mindful Living & Mindful Working’ series. He is also a Contributing Author to The Huffington Post and a Contributing Writer to Thrive Global. Through The Mudd Partnership he works with business leaders, organisations and individuals in support of change, leadership excellence, business growth, organistional and individual wellbeing and well doing, and introducing Mindfulness. He can be contacted at paul@themuddpartnership.co.uk and you can follow the continuing journey uncovering Mindfulness on Twitter @TheMindfulBook and at @Paul_Mudd