The duties and responsibilities of board directors are more complex and difficult than ever before. Serving on a board of directors requires complex oversight, transparency and accountability. Technology has become a friend to boards of directors because it solves many of their problems. At the same time, technology has opened up the door to more complex and interconnected risks. Increased regulations and stakeholder scrutiny have created excessive worries over personal risk and liability. A solid board culture and strong board dynamics are necessary components for dealing with the tough issues that today’s boards are facing.
Dividing the Weak Board Directors From the Strong Board Directors
The issues that today’s boards are facing serve to separate the weak board directors from the strong ones. Weak board directors are distant and detached. They lack innovation and they fail to prepare for board meetings, let alone participate in them. These are qualities that simply shouldn’t be tolerated on boards.
On the other hand, strong board directors fully understand all aspects of the organization’s operations. They’re willing to lend support to management without micromanaging them. Strong board directors are actively engaged in their board duties. They can quickly and easily define their role and definition. High-quality board directors are willing and able to serve in specialized roles, such as succession planning, finance, fundraising and communications, as needed.
Successful boards work toward having consensus and agreement in where they believe they are in the business development stage. Whether they’re in the foundational, developmental or advanced planning stages, the board should be in agreement about which stage the board is in and how that aligns with the board’s strategic mission.
Here’s how to master 10 characteristics of successful board relationships:
10 Characteristics of Successful Board Relationships
- They respect clear division of the roles between managers and board directors. While this is a basic fact of board directorship, many boards are still attempting to micromanage their management teams. Boards need to have full confidence in the managers they choose to fulfill the expectations outlined in senior managers’ job descriptions. When too many board directors overstep their roles too often, it weakens their relationships with management and causes director conflicts. Above all, failing to keep clear lines of responsibility between board directors and managers slows decision-making.
- They take advantage of technology to streamline board operations. Technology in board management software systems has been developed through BoardEffect to provide the most secure applications to streamline processes for board agendas, meeting minutes, electronic surveys and much more. Cloud storage replaces cumbersome manual paper filing systems.
- They recruit board directors who complement each other. Choosing board directors who complement each other doesn’t refer to selecting individuals who are like-minded. Boards shouldn’t be too small to prevent a diversity of opinions, nor so large that board members can’t get a word in edgewise in board discussions. Board directors should be able to rely on the diversity of each other’s backgrounds and experiences and be willing to challenge statements and probe for deeper meanings.
- Board directors work to develop board dynamics that promote an environment of mutual trust. Boards need to be able to challenge each other and respect one another without creating power struggles or allowing domineering members to take over the boardroom. Directors should appreciate the new skills and perspectives that new members bring to the group.
- They use outside experts as necessary. Business is complicated enough that boards can’t expect to know everything about everything. Best practices for board development indicate that boards should pursue board development training, which will help to protect them against liability. Outside experts can be a huge resource when things are tenuous.
- They are objective in their self-assessments. Boards are largely self-governing. This is a good reason to use BoardEffect surveys for board directors to objectively assess their own performance, the performance of their peers and the performance of the board as a whole. Taking it a step further, they need to be able to review their results objectively and to make decisions based on the results.
- They should be able to communicate strategic objectives equally in good times and in times of crisis. Board directors should be ready at all times to manage the organization’s reputation by supporting management, keeping their focus and pulling everyone together in times of crisis. This is made possible by keeping their agenda focused on the future.
- They should understand and track information architecture. This means that board directors should be able to track the business and its key drivers. They’re responsible for knowing competitive trends, stakeholder changes and regulatory changes. This entails disseminating the information they received on a regular basis from the information they need to make judgment calls. Information architecture also accounts for informal information architectural streams.
- They should appoint a board chair who effectively leads the board. The board chair should be selected carefully. The chair needs to be someone who can set boundaries for board discussions, while gaining full participation from board members and running meetings smoothly. The board chair’s responsibilities include modeling good behavior and managing the meeting efficiently.
- They know that respectful collaboration is the hallmark of good board discussions. Diverse perspectives and opinions are necessary and healthy for board deliberations, but the diversity can easily set the stage for strong dissenting opinions, which can lead to arguments and unrest. It’s vital for boards to create a culture of inclusion where communication skills such as questioning, analyzing and evaluating are accepted as a normal course.
Everyone wants to serve on the board where everyone gets along. That’s a good thing as long as board directors aren’t just going along with the flow for no other reason than to keep the peace and ride out their terms. Best practices and parliamentary procedures should provide a solid foundation for board meetings. At least annually, boards should participate in board self-evaluations to assess their functioning, which includes board dynamics and culture. Internal board dynamics that are too weak or too strong can cause the board to lose its effectiveness. Many characteristics go into successful board relationships, and it’s important for boards to keep a pulse on being productive individually and collectively.