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Is toxicity hampering your board’s performance?

Arriving at board meetings late or under prepared, raised voices and talking over people, an inability to consider other perspectives, sarcastic or distant and withdrawn. If precious time is being spent on navigating power struggles and managing the behaviours in the room, a toxic culture could be impacting your board’s performance.

What do we mean when we say culture?

Culture is a word often bandied around in corporate speak but what exactly do we mean by it? The OED defines culture as the attitudes and behaviour characteristic of a particular social group. Like any group every board has a set of unspoken and unwritten norms. Good processes and structure can only do so much. It’s the behavioural dynamics of the group that can make the difference between a bad and a good board. Directors must have the ability, and importantly the right environment, to be able to deal with the current issues of the business. If not, they will fail to add value and may be the business’ downfall.

The elephant in the boardroom

Boards are required to work as a team in order to make collective, robust decisions. However they can struggle to form or maintain a cohesive team, despite having directors with the right skill sets. Why is this? Boards are generally made up of executives who are used to leading a team, rather than being an equal part of it.

A broken boardroom culture makes everything else harder so if your board meetings aren’t an enjoyable experience, if you feel like you’re wading through the mud, then it may be time to start to address what everyone else in the room will be feeling.

If you think toxicity might be hampering your board’s performance here are seven areas to think about:

Recruitment: New directors must have the right values and motives that fit with your business, as well as the right skillset. There are a range of psychometric tools that can be used to identify these aspects.

Diversity: Ensure that there is the right mix of characters and competencies. The impact of having independent bodies in the boardroom on behaviour cannot be underestimated.

Size: Consider what is needed for optimum board performance. Too small a group leads to a lack of diversity of thought. Too large a group and they will not be able to form a cohesive team.

Training: New and existing directors need the right training, orientation and coaching to do the job. This should include outlining clear expectations around boardroom behaviour and processes for addressing negative behaviours and conflict.

The Chair: A strong, competent chair is needed in order to encourage healthy boardroom dynamics. The chair can influence and establish a culture of accountability, responsibility, trust and frank and open discussion.

Undesirable behaviour: The chair should highlight unacceptable behaviours to the individuals. This should be done outside of the meeting with tact, diplomacy and compassion. Ultimately if change does not occur poorly performing directors will need to be removed.

Evaluate: As part of the board evaluation process questions on boardroom behaviour can be used to shed light on problem areas.

Lead by example

Behavioural change will take time and is not easy. The development of positive behaviours requires all individuals to see the need and have the willingness to change. But remember that the leadership of the company drives its culture, if the boardroom is toxic then the company culture will follow suit.

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