What Is Your Board’s Distinct Culture? Connecting Takes Courage

board of directors meeting photo

A board of directors can be a highly valuable asset for business owners.

What Is Your Board’s Distinct Culture? Connecting Takes Courage

I believe strongly in having a board of directors or, at a minimum, a board of advisors / advisory board, to help you run your business. The input can be invaluable. However, if the board does not get along, this can have a disastrous impact on your business. This article by Ralph Kikkert will provide you with examples and insights to help ensure that you have the harmonious, effective and productive board you seek. – TCW

What Is Your Board’s Distinct Culture? Connecting Takes Courage

Mary wondered why the board took so long to make decisions and why board members could not just get along. Peter typically rolled his eyes whenever Joyce spoke. He was often criticizing her after board meetings because she insisted on working out all the implementation details of board decisions. Joyce was focused on making sure management followed the board’s implicit direction. She felt it was the board’s job to manage the CEO. John, meanwhile, thought the board’s job was to govern; he trusted management to make management decisions and wanted to be hands off regarding any details. Tom thought the board was to make all the decisions, even small ones, as the board was responsible to the owners, not the staff.

Angela, the Chair, thought it was no wonder the board members could not get along. There was no common understanding. She asked the board members what they thought the board’s job was and received many different responses.

Angela knew that the board members had diverse backgrounds but was surprised with the diversity in expectations, types and depth of analysis on issues, decision-making styles, and personalities. These differences led to a poorly functioning board.

She realized that this board – like every board – had to get some common understanding of its role and explore its unique discussion and decision-making culture before its members could start to work together as one.

What Can You Do?

1. Ensure clarity on the purpose of your board and expectations of board members; then, confront board members when they do not adhere to the board-set expectations.

2. Determine how you will work as a board. Are you committed to being a governing board? If you are not yet willing to make the full shift, decide in what areas you will be a working board, in what areas a management board, and in what areas a governing board.

3. Complete a Myers-Briggs or DiSC personality assessment and begin to better understand how your board members gather information and make decisions. This will support the development of respect, trust, and open conversation.

4. Spend time defining how your board can most effectively and efficiently make decisions and monitor the organization and its results.

5. Commit to working as a team, respecting each other, promoting diversity of thought at the board meetings, and speaking as one after decisions are made.

Your board may not achieve Utopia but all can feel (and be) more connected.

Your board may not achieve Utopia but all can feel (and be) more connected.

Connecting Takes Courage

Arianna repressed a shudder from visibly running through her body. It was her third board meeting and a frustrating pattern was conclusively confirmed: The Chair had a habit of leading the meaty topics with his own opinion. The rest of the board kowtowed dutifully. There was no robust exploration of the issues. What happened was more a monologue with applause than a discussion and group decision.

Put yourself in Arianna’s shoes and consider your options:

• Let it go. This board was around for a long time before Arianna joined. Somehow, it has all worked out. And the decisions aren’t all that bad, anyway.

• Hit it head on. Just because others are acting like mice doesn’t mean she should. If Arianna is going to be on this board, she better be ready to rock the boat when the boat needs rocking.

• Wait it out. The Chair’s term is only one year. Before long, it will be up. Surely everyone will be smart enough not to re-appoint him.

We don’t like any of those options, though each has a kernel of validity.

A board of directors is beneficial for small businesses

Ensure all board members participate and are heard.

What Can You Do?

1. Start building relationships with each board member right away. Discover more about their strengths and interests, and about their motivation for being on the board.

2. Inject your learnings into boardroom discussion. “As we start into this topic of risk management for the organization, I can’t help wondering what Rich is thinking about this. He was the VP of Risk Management for the bank before he retired.” Or, “Just last week I was visiting with Rebecca and was impressed with her credentials in HR. What suggestions do you have regarding the review of our CEO, Rebecca?”

3. Politely interject in board meetings to prevent a decision from being concluded prior to appropriate expression and engagement. “Stan, you’ve made some important points, but before we move on I’d like to hear what Susan thinks about this, especially about the possible impact this may have on our customers’ trust in our organization.”

4. Play the “newbie” card to provoke more connection. “I realize that I am very new to this board and don’t know everyone like you must. I sometimes worry that I’m missing important perspectives because I’m not aware of each board member’s background and experiences. Could we set aside 30-40 minutes to share about this at our next meeting?” If you expect the Chair to dismiss this, it may be best to have this conversation one-on-one with the Chair or another board member who could champion the idea for you.

5. Stay constructive, not critical. The vast majority of people are trying to make a positive contribution to the boards they serve. The more we learn about their motivations and wishes, the better we can help them contribute in ways that add value to the organization.

Some people consider “connecting” to be the soft stuff around board tables. The reality is this soft stuff can be hard to do. And, when we get it working, everything else gets easier.

About the Author:

Ralph Kikkert is a co-founder of STRIVE!, a leadership development firm that has specialized in governance, teambuilding, strategic planning, and executive management since 1995. Ralph consults with prominent corporations and non-profit leadership teams. He has served as Chair of many boards, board member, GM, and accountant. He has served as Chair of a credit union board for which has assets of approximately $1.8 billion and over 48,000 members. Ralph’s clients range across many industries such as government, health care, agriculture, pharmaceutical, manufacturing, transportation, food, and construction over the past 20+ years. Contact Ralph for governance consulting or strategic planning by calling 519-766-9033 or emailing ralphkikkert@strive.com

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