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The Board is not a Team- with Neil Britten

 

"The Board is not a team" Discussion with Neil Britten, Britten Coyne Partners

 

Characteristics of (effective) teams:

  • Directly accountable for outcomes
  • Clearly defined (single) goal – predefined or self-defined
  • Mix of talents and skills which collectively support achievement of that goal
  • Single leader
  • Clear structure and roles (goal keeper mostly defends)
  • Suppression of personal goals / agenda demanded in pursuit of the team goal
  • Shared information
  • Open and clear communication
  • Cohesiveness is considered a premium (not a team player)
  • Group think may be a positive decision making mode – knowing what your team members will do
  • Longevity tends to be a positive demographic regarding effectiveness, as long as other attributes not diminished

 

Common characteristics of boards:

  • Indirectly accountable for many outcomes
  • Multiple, conflicting goals – externally defined or self-defined, e.g. long- term vs short term; risk vs reward; shareholders interests vs employees interests
  • Diversity is valued (but frequently exhibit industry and member-experience homogeneity)
  • Single chair / combined chair CEO
  • CEO accountable for short term results (CEO tenures)
  • Chair accountable for effective board; board accountable to stakeholders; board accountable for long term success
  • May have clear structure, e.g. sub-committees but all directors remain accountable for whole enterprise (“goalkeeper” must attack and defend equally)
  • Directors retain individual accountability
  • Information asymmetry at best / suppression at worst
  • Communication strongly influenced by CEO style and Chair style
  • Longevity (especially with homogeneity) is negatively correlated with effectiveness
  • Cohesiveness, especially in the absence of cognitive conflict, tends to group think – self-censorship and pressuring deviant thinkers to conform to majority opinions

 

If not teams then what?

  • Elite, episodic, decision making groups that face complex tasks pertaining to strategic issue processing
  • The output of boards is purely cognitive in nature
  • Groups which must positively harness cognitive conflict – “critical and investigative interaction processes”
  • A group where some attributes shared with effective teams (Knowledge/skill; Effort norms; cohesiveness) but has critical difference in the role and contribution of Cognitive Conflict – impact on core task of boards regarding strategic decision making and risk
  • A board that looks and feels like a great team is probably an ineffective board

 

 

 

Neil Britten, Britten Coyne Partners, nbritten@brittencoyne.com