Making Sense of Dysfunctional Boards to Generate Better Board Decisions

It’s not uncommon for someone to accept an appointment to join a board of directors just to find that it’s really not as interesting or as rewarding as they thought it would be. Dysfunction in the boardroom causes boards to become stagnant, contentious, or both. Either way, a poorly run board of directors causes many problems.

Boards can easily become a one-person show, where one person dominates so heavily that everyone else’s opinions get overshadowed. Contentious boards occasionally move their problems outside the boardroom, which reflects poorly on the organization. More importantly, dysfunctional boards may have trouble making decisions that are in the best interest of the organization. If this sounds like a board that you serve on, take a deeper look and identify the issues that plague your organization. We’ll help you take action to help improve your board’s functionality and generate better board decisions.

“Our Board Never Accomplishes Anything!”

There could be many reasons that your board never accomplishes anything. Let’s take a closer look at some of them.

Board Doesn’t Understand the Organization

Certain board members may have been brought in because they have expertise in a certain area, like finance, accounting, law, cybersecurity, marketing, fundraising, or something else. Do they really know what the organization is about? Are they familiar with products that the corporation manufactures and do they use them? Have they participated in any of the fundraising events, or even attended them? Has the board given them a tour of the operation and the facilities? Getting better acquainted with the organization and its mission helps to make a stronger connection between their area of expertise and the organization.

Board Meetings Are Stagnant and Boring

Some boards haven’t learned how to make their meetings productive. They bring up the same issues meeting after meeting, without ever resolving them or bringing them to a vote. This could be because too many personalities clash in the boardroom and everything becomes a stalemate. When boards have one or two powerful members, they sometimes have side conversations outside the boardroom and assume that the board will go along with their decisions without offering the opportunity for a thorough discussion. Secret conversations that happen on a regular basis break down trust between board members, and raise red flags about ethics and motives. Meetings that occur too infrequently can cause board members to diminish the importance of the issues they face or create a lack of enthusiasm for their contribution to the board.

Board Meetings Are Contentious

Most board members don’t attend meetings expecting everyone to agree on every issue. However, no one looks forward to attending a meeting where the environment is continually hostile. When there is conflict between certain board members on a regular basis, it stifles board discussions, making it difficult for the rest of the board to share constructive opinions and to make progress.

Board chairs who let certain directors dominate every meeting contribute to board dissension. Overzealous board members use strategies like talking loudly, shooting down opposing opinions and harassing fellow board members. Allowing these situations is a fast turnoff for quieter, more collaborative board members.

Board Members Are Disengaged

A new board member’s enthusiasm quickly subsides when they have trouble engaging with the rest of the board. Lack of participation may be due to not having opportunities for board training and development. This problem sometimes occurs because board members aren’t getting the agenda, minutes and reports in enough time to review them and form opinions. Weaker members of the board may need mentoring so they know their purpose and how they can transition from passive observers to active participants.

Board Meetings Are Disorganized

While board agendas vary slightly between meetings, the meeting format should follow this order:

  • Recap
  • Standing business
  • Old business
  • New business

Having no agenda, or an agenda that isn’t clear, sets the stage for a disorganized meeting. Another problem is conflicting agendas or disagreement on which agenda items should take priority.

Having a good leader in the board chair is just as important as having a solid agenda. It’s nearly impossible for boards to accomplish anything when there isn’t a clear process, schedule and capable leader.

Low Attendance at Board Meetings

Low attendance at board meetings is the equivalent of an absentee board. When directors regularly don’t show up for meetings, it’s hard to get a quorum to conduct business. Such boards will need to find out why their directors aren’t coming to meetings. Is it because of the lack of time, or are they just not interested? Is there a bigger problem that needs to be addressed?

Issues of Respect and Confidentiality

Board members need to be able to work closely with managers. Board members shouldn’t be expected to agree with management, but it’s not healthy for board members to blatantly disrespect management.

Much of board business is confidential. When board members leak information outside the boardroom, it can easily be taken out of context by the public or the media.

Personal or Political Agendas in the Boardroom

When board members continually push a personal or political agenda, it unduly influences their decision-making. This is an ethical matter that boards shouldn’t tolerate. Personal and political agendas lead to board disagreements and compromise the corporation’s reputation and integrity.

Making Sense: Generating Better Board Decisions

If these issues are plaguing your board’s work, you don’t have to live with them. Are you ready to break the habits that bog down your board? Join Dottie Schindlinger, Governance Technology Evangelist of Diligent, for this informative webinar called:

“Making Sense: Generating Better Board Decisions”

Dottie will share a brief overview of the principles described in Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards, by Richard P. Chait, William P. Ryan and Barbara E. Taylor (Wiley, 2005). Using the philosophy of “generative thinking,” Dottie will teach you how to reframe existing problems and consider issues from multiple perspectives. Join the webinar and learn how to create an environment for robust discussions that allows space for board members to engage on a deeper level. This session will help you prioritize issues and interpret them for shareholders, investors and stakeholders.

This webinar is a must for board directors who want to improve the quality of their board discussions toward achieving better outcomes to challenging situations and generating better decisions. This webinar is appropriate for entire boards to attend either to correct board problems or as an opportunity for board development. At a minimum, consider registering one board member who can report back to the rest of the board. Register now and mark your calendar for this information-packed webinar.