Earlier today, I read an interesting article posted on the HBR blog site about conflict and governance. The author, Solange Charas, described two kinds of conflict: cognitive (task-oriented) and affective (emotionally-oriented) in her article. She asserted that cognitive conflict is essential in creating value, whereas affective conflict erodes value. Charas' research is consistent with other research which reports that cohesiveness, vigorous debate and creative interaction are hallmarks of a good strategy development process (refs: Levrau & Van den Burghe, 2007; Kerr & Werther, 2008).
My point in raising the topic of conflict/debate in the boardroom? Many of the boards that I'm familiar with or have been privileged to observe are devoid of cognitive conflict, despite directors themselves telling researchers that vigorous debate leads to improved decision quality. Discussions tend to be "nice", lest someone offends someone else. But are such genteel behaviours good for company performance?
Can I suggest directors need to put their reputations and any affective behaviours to one side, and focus their attention on what they were appointed to do: explore strategic options and make strategic decisions (some of which may be quite contentious), and maximise performance (through the CEO). Perhaps if they do so, and adopt cognitive conflict practices, then we will start to see some serious value being created from the boardroom.
Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and the craft of board work; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.