Board meetings are uncompromising places of work and decision-making. Not only are boards themselves inherently socially-dynamic (they are make up of people, after all!), but every situation is different and directors meet infrequently and they generally need to act on incomplete data.
Consequently, decision-making effectiveness is largely dependent on directors working well together when the board is in session. However, that is much easier said than done. In fact, recent research suggests that we humans struggle to understand the minds of others, even though we think we are good at it. This renders group dynamics difficult, at best.
One of the biggest barriers to understanding is egocentrism—we can't get over ourselves. We over-estimate knowledge and capability, including that of others to understand what we say or mean. The problem is exacerbated by the technological world of electronic mail (which strips out tone and meaning), and even more so the abbreviated 140-character world of Twitter and text messages.
If directors are to make effective contributions in boardrooms they need to get over themselves. Older and more experienced directors are not exempt from this problem—they are just as prone to making assumptions as their younger or less experienced colleagues.
Techniques that might be helpful for directors wanting to make effective contributions include meeting together in social settings to learn more about each other; asking questions during board meetings with open hands and a humble spirit; careful (reflective) listening, to limit assumptions and check understanding; and, the demonstration of a collective empathy amongst directors. Perhaps it might even be helpful to appoint a psychologist onto the board! Please note this is not a categorical list—if you have evidence-based suggestions, please feel free to share them.
Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and the craft of board work; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.