Last week at the @AICD Brisbane Directors briefing they identified four main areas to challenge a board’s status quo.
I’m going to challenge that, and reach a little deeper, exploring how truly effective boards should be also focusing on group dynamics, the bonds that tie, and the moments that break.
Attendees heard from a panel of three experts – Kerry Newton, CEO Directors Australia; Wayne Gerard, RedEye Co-Founder and QLD Governments’ Chief Entrepreneur in 2021-2022; and Justine Cain, Group CEO of Diabetes Australia.
While the speakers were knowledgeable, experienced, and generous in their sharing of experiences; they cited pretty much the same (fairly predictable) processes to challenge a board’s status quo.
On the surface these are practical mechanisms to challenge an unhealthy board status quo; and also, coincidentally, what is taught in the AICD Company Directors curriculum.
The problem with these mechanisms is that they require structural changes; take considerable time to implement; and will not necessarily challenge a dysfunctional board culture if not enough of the right (or wrong) members are turned over at the same time; or if, indeed, they are replaced with “more of the same” characters.
I signed up for this event hoping to hear about ways board dynamics can be challenged in the moment; in the meeting; in productive and constructive ways. I expected to hear how Directors can confidently hold each other to account on behaviours that do and do not contribute to a healthy level of conflict, debate and decision making. I wanted to understand how Chairpersons can be made aware of disrespect or disregard and how this can be dealt with in elegant ways that generate deeper trust, respect and accountability amongst board teams.
I understand that cultural change takes time, patience, and considerable humanity. Our challenge as a society is – we just don’t have the same time anymore. We need change to happen FAST. We need decision makers to represent the current zeitgeist. We need good thinking, robust discussion, and less egos.
At question time, a woman in the audience stood up and asked: “I am the only female on my board. How can I challenge the board when my voice is not heard?”
The answer from the panel was empathetic; yet inadequate. “Keep trying” was one response; followed by “get more women on that board” (followed by laughter and head nodding by the whole room)!
How is this stuff still going on? How is it still OK? Why do we shrug our shoulders and put up with it? Who are we protecting here?
I do not wish to criticise the speakers. They were excellent and inspiring. They too are struggling with the same challenges. They are adopting the best mechanisms and techniques that we have and are delivering outstanding change in their own industries. I respected their contributions and learned a great deal from them.
But – I did not learn what I came for.
My take away from this experience is that there is a need for better, cleaner strategies for addressing dysfunctional group dynamics in boards and leadership teams.
Directors, executives, founders – they are not superhumans. They are very clever, experienced, and have a passion for their industry; yes. But they are simply human. They are subject to falling prey to the same assumptions, biases, and cultural norms that all humans are.
We need to move beyond size, composition, succession planning, and annual performance reviews. We need to build psychological safety, transparency, trust and resilience into leadership team governance.
I am working hard on reading as much as I can on this topic and bringing it to light in my next book; The Bonds that Tie. I welcome your feedback, insights and experiences. If you wish to be interviewed or to contribute your thinking – please reach out to me. I want to listen.