Undercurrents in the Boardroom

meetingHave you ever been to a board meeting that got off track? Where presenters were blindsided by questions, discussions got overly heated or significant issues were left unresolved? Undercurrents in the boardroom can impact even the best preparation.

Having participated and observed dozens of board meetings within a number of organizations across a variety of industries, it’s obvious that a significant amount of executive staff and director time goes into preparing for the actual meeting. Agendas are often skillfully designed, background and in-session materials thoughtfully prepared and thoroughly reviewed, speaking notes skillfully written and more in-depth presentations practiced well in advance of the actual board meeting.

And parallel to this content preparation is a similar focus by staff on how various conversations will play out during board discussion and decision-making:

  • How will this item land with the directors?
  • What questions will they likely ask?
  • What can we anticipate in terms of support and resistance?
  • What kind of interplay will there be between various people in the room?

It’s this issue around “in the room” dynamics that leaves, perhaps, too much room for interpretation and guesswork. Nobody really knows how specific items or discussions will play out in real time until the meeting and ensuing discussions actually occur. Unfortunately, for most boards, while content is well planned and orchestrated, group dynamics are left to circumstance and chance.

This doesn’t have to be the case.

Deliberate, well-planned and intentional board development — focused specifically on group dynamics – can strengthen interpersonal relationships and significantly enhance overall board effectiveness. Your board meetings can be more fruitful and successful with a few simple steps.

  • Competency ModelingStart with some initial discovery efforts regarding group dynamics – determine what’s working well and what could be improved through direct conversation with directors or a simple web-based survey in which results are aggregated in an anonymous fashion.
  • Use the feedback results to stimulate conversation and generate agreement about key attributes such as participation, communications, problem-solving approaches and decision-making preferences.
  • Dedicated coaching and skill building ‘moments’ can then be incorporated into actual board meetings or as part of  a more comprehensive offsite board session.
  • Establish simple, yet explicit, agreements around group norms (i.e., in-the-room expectations regarding key behaviours), which will make a huge difference to the results achieved during the time board members spend together.

The more organized you are around group dynamics ahead of time, the better. This should be a part of the overall planning process, rather than an afterthought. And this development focus won’t soften the effectiveness of director conversations – indeed, the work generally enhances the ability of board members to host conversations that entail challenge, tension and even moderate conflict while maintaining (or even strengthening) interpersonal relations and enhancing overall meeting outcomes.

So the next time you’re considering board development opportunities, why not work on group dynamics to really leverage you directors’ strengths and capabilities? It will provide a change of pace from typical discussions and make your boardroom stronger and more effective than ever.

About The Author

Scott Borland, Founder & President of CYGNUS Management Consultants Inc, , is a recognized expert in helping executives host strategic conversations and obtain high impact feedback. He brings insightful perspective and proven strategies to strengthen the alignment between strategy and leadership behaviour. Scott has presented frequently at regional/national conferences and is a regular contributor to online journals/blogs. Follow Scott on Twitter or add him as a connection on LinkedIn.

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