Is your board dysfunctional?


Does your board have directors who trust each other, are committed, are comfortable with conflict, hold each other to account and are focused on results?

If not, David Doughty, CEO of UK-based Excellencia, believes your board is likely to have some degree of dysfunctionality and is possibly in need of an intervention.

"I have been working with boards of organisations of all sizes in all sectors for a number of years and most of them exhibit some degree of dysfunctionality," says Doughty, who uses a board evaluation and diagnostic tool based on the book by Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

He notes if there is no trust on the board, directors will:

  • Conceal their weaknesses and mistakes from one another.
  • Hesitate to ask for help or provide constructive feedback.
  • Hesitate to offer help outside their own areas of responsibilities.
  • Jump to conclusions about the intentions and aptitudes of others without attempting to clarify them.
  • Fail to recognise and tap into one another's skills and experiences.
  • Waste time and energy managing their behaviours for effect.
  • Hold grudges.
  • Focus time and energy on politics, not important issues.
  • Dread meetings and find reasons to avoid spending time together.

Similarly, Doughty says directors fear conflict, they will have boring meetings, create environments where back-channel politics and personal attacks thrive and ignore controversial topics that are critical to board success. They will also fail to tap into all the opinions and perspectives of board members and waste time and energy on posturing and interpersonal risk management.

Similarly, Doughty says directors fear conflict, they will have boring meetings, create environments where back-channel politics and personal attacks thrive and ignore controversial topics that are critical to board success. They will also fail to tap into all the opinions and perspectives of board members and waste time and energy on posturing and interpersonal risk management.

In addition, a board that fails to commit to being a team:

  • Creates ambiguity among the board about direction and priorities.
  • Misses opportunities due to excessive analysis and unnecessary delay.
  • Breeds a lack of confidence and fear of failure.
  • Revisits discussions and decisions again and again.
  • Encourages second-guessing among directors.

Dysfunctional boards are unable to create clarity around their direction and priorities and cannot align directors around common objectives. They move forward with hesitation and are unable to learn from mistakes.

Further, a board that avoids accountability:

  • Creates resentment among directors who have different standards of performance. Encourages mediocrity.
  • Misses deadlines and key deliverables.
  • Places an undue burden on the chairman as the sole source of discipline.
  • Does not ensure poor performers feel the pressure to improve.
  • Does not identify potential problems quickly by questioning one another's approaches without hesitation.

Doughty adds that if a board is not focused on results, the organisation will stagnate or fail to grow, rarely defeat competitors, lose achievement-oriented employees, be easily distracted and encourage individualistic behaviour where board members focus on their own careers and individual goals.

So what should boards be doing? According to Doughty, directors who can agree with most of the following are likely to be sitting on more effective boards:

  • Board members are clear on what is expected of them.
  • Board meeting agendas are well planned so that the board is able to get through all necessary board business.
  • Most board members come to meetings prepared.
  • Written reports to the board are received well in advance of meetings.
  • All directors participate in important board discussions.
  • Different points of view are encouraged and discussed.
  • All directors support the decisions reached.
  • The board has a plan for the further development of directors.
  • Board meetings are always interesting and frequently fun.

Doughty asks: "How many of the above statements were you able to agree with? If you disagreed with a number of them, the likelihood is that you are a member of a dysfunctional board ... If your business has a dysfunctional board, it is also likely to be a dysfunctional business."


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