Creating a dynamic board

Compatibility and balance is key to successful governance, conference delegates hear.

An effective board is like a good marriage, delegates at a governance seminar were told on Friday.

Speaking in Sydney at the Better Boards Conference 2024, Chris Scott – executive director at Turner Scott Consulting – said good governance is “all about interaction between board members, it comes down to communication, making decisions and assuming specific roles.”

Delegates were asked: “Does that sound like a marriage? Does that sound like a relationship? And how many relationships are built around skills, knowledge and expertise? No, they’re built around relationships, they’re built around emotions, they’re built around connectivity, they’re built around beliefs, they’re built around values,” said Mr Scott.

It’s about interrelationships, he added. “Dating apps are very much like a board application process – you have your likes and dislikes.”

Compatibility is crucial, said Mr Scott. “We don’t want 10 lawyers on the board. We don’t want 10 accountants on the board. We don’t want 10 HR people on the board.”

Chris Scott

When selecting board members, delegates were advised to screen for behaviours, motivations, and drivers. “You wouldn’t want nine emotional people on your board. You wouldn’t want nine shrewd people on your board. You wouldn’t want nine caring people. You want to have a balance.”

Delegates were also told to minimise behavioural types. That way, said Mr Scott, “you don’t get a totally emotional board, you don’t get a totally dominate board, you don’t get a totally risk-averse board. You don’t get a totally caring board that throws the budget out of the window because we’ve got care at any cost.”

A board with all of those behavioural elements along with knowledge make it a really dynamic board, he added. “It brings cohesion, it brings collaboration. It strengthens purpose to your board. It builds trust and empathy for the people around the table and gives leadership focus and clarity.”

You want to have varied personality types as well as skillsets, said Mr Scott. “Because once you get that balance right, you then get a team environment where you get a whole lot of people working together in a collaborative process.”

Delivering a speech entitled Creating dynamic boards ready for success to a roomful of executives of not-for-profits, Mr Scott told the delegates there are a number of ways to improve a board’s dynamics. “One is understanding the psychological construct of your board.”

Getting the right mix of people around the board table is crucial to successful governance, said Mr Scott. “For some reason some boards just don’t gel – something happens. And it comes down to human nature.”

Directors’ behaviours become dependant on the interactions around them, said Mr Scott. “We create bonds, we create relationships and we work together. It’s an unconsciousness that takes place.”

Getting the group dynamics right leads to good leadership, added Mr Scott. “You’ve got clarity of purpose. You’ve got motivational individuals and groups – you’re all driving and striving for the same thing, which encourages innovation.”

Conversely, weak board leadership consists of “poor board dynamics, groupthink, and blocking behaviours.” A weak board, added Mr Scott, lacks direction, focuses on the wrong priorities, and is vulnerable to a dominate board member.

We need to embrace conflict … dissent needn’t mean division

When different personality types are brought into the mix, they not only bring expertise, knowledge and skill to the table, said Mr Scott, “but also behaviours.” These behaviours have “a psychological impact that sits below the surface,” the delegates were told.

This inevitably leads to conflict between board members, said Mr Scott, “given the individual characteristics of directors and the complexity of the issues that we address.”

Dealing with boardroom conflict comes down to good leadership and a change in the language used, said Mr Scott. “That is steering oppositional conversations away from the table and talking about the issue not the person.”

A successful board has the ability to harness multiple opinions and alternative views, added Mr Scott. Conflict, he said, can be good. “We need to embrace conflict. We need to engage with those around us. Dissent needn’t mean division.”

Delegates were told – when it comes to good governance – collaboration is key. “Because you’ve got strong leadership you feel more comfortable, you feel more engaged, you feel more empowered,” said Mr Scott. “If you’re in a strong marriage, you work collaboratively together. You make things happen, you get better results, you get better outcomes. You want to do your best for the people around you.”

Australian Ageing Agenda is a media partner of Better Boards Conference 2024

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Tags: Better Boards Conference, boards, Chris Scott, governance, Relationships Australia South Australia,

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