The dynamics of directors on a board are not much different from the dynamics of the members of a sports team. Take a look, for example, at a football team. Every player can be exceptionally talented and skilled, but if they don’t work together to defeat their opponents, they may lose their chance to win the championship game. They need to play to their strengths and stick to the plan they made with their coach.
A board of directors is also working toward winning its own version of a championship game, and that’s to make an organization thrive even in the face of challenges and other hurdles. But when a board is dysfunctional, its directors fail to work together to produce good strategies and decisions for the organization they represent. Unfortunately, the organization suffers as a result of this dysfunction.
Look closely at your organization. Is your board dysfunctional? Fortunately, it’s easy to spot. Here are a few tell-tale signs of a dysfunctional board:
When directors are too busy trying to be in control, they lose sight of their main task, which is putting the board’s best interests at heart. Instead, they focus on gaining power until only a small sub-group of the board makes the decisions and strategies that affect the whole organization. More often than not, the opinion of this dominant sub-group doesn’t represent the board’s consensus, which defeats the purpose of a board in the first place.
Lack of conflict
You would think that a board whose members never disagree on anything is highly functional. However, the truth can’t be farther than that. Lack of conflict is a sign of disengagement: it means everyone is agreeing to whatever is out there because they can’t be bothered to care. It can also be a sign of distrust: Directors choose not to speak up out of fear of the consequences of being outnumbered.
The board’s main priority is to keep its focus on the organization, so when directors start making decisions with a personal agenda, then the board becomes dysfunctional. The same thing goes for political agendas. Directors should not let their vested interests get in the way of their strategies for the organization. Otherwise, it can lead to strong conflicts. As mentioned above, a healthy amount of conflict is good, but too much of it can be disruptive.
Directors should be able to commit to the choices they make for the organization. But when accountability doesn’t exist, members of the board don’t necessarily feel the pressure to do their job right. Why should they, when they don’t have to face any consequence whatever happens? Who takes the responsibility if things don’t work out as planned? Accountability is a crucial element of commitment, so if you want directors to stand up for their decisions, make them accountable.
The board is responsible for choosing the right CEO for the organization, so it’s expected that directors will want to keep updated on what the CEO does on a regular basis. But some directors can cross the line and start overtaking the CEO’s job by micromanaging everything, even things that shouldn’t involve them. For a board to remain functional, directors should know when to step back and trust the CEO to handle the organization’s everyday processes.
But even when your board of directors is showing signs of dysfunction, it’s not too late for a change. Highly functional boards don’t just happen out of thin air; they’re formed after strong professional relationships are established. Thus, put your directors in situations that allow them to interact and work with one another. Board meetings take place only a few times a year, but don’t rely on them alone to bring your directors together. You can introduce a paperless meeting solution like Convene to encourage collaboration among board members. Even when they’re miles apart, they can use their iPad, iPhone, or Android device to access documents stored on the portal. Directors can virtually work on these documents together so that by the time the next meeting rolls around, everyone is familiar with their fellow directors’ working styles.