Three Steps to Improve Board Performance

Board members want to ensure the company’s success. They focus on making sure that the decisions they make will benefit the company and its shareholders. In order for them to resolve problems successfully and be productive, board members need to feel safe and secure with each other.

When board members don’t feel secure and safe they begin to focus on proving their point of view rather than explaining what they need to feel safe in making a decision or completing a task.

Emotion is a basic motivating force for us to get things done. It comes from the Latin word “to move.” Research shows that emotions sort of pulling us to move in particular kinds of ways and they organize the way we interact with each other. Once we develop an emotional presence and connection with each other, we ensure the fastest way to improve board effectiveness and performance.

When board members get caught in a negative maladaptive interaction cycle, it interrupts and prevents them from performing at their best.

Even with the best board governance, a board can fail if directors and their CEO are in a negative cycle. An example of a negative cycle begins with one proving his or her point of view by way of criticizing, blaming, or judging. The cycle takes attention away from the task at hand. It continues to manifest itself because board members don’t know how to stop the negative cycle and instead, they end up getting caught in a “power struggle” by either fighting for their side or disengaging from the conversation. In the end, they can’t seem to find a way to make visible progress.

Using the latest emotionally focused research, Level Five Executive has identified a roadmap for directors and CEOs to use that will help them make considerable progress within their boards and improve performance. The roadmap consists of following a process and using the specific tools that will create emotional safety for everyone on the board and impact board performance.

The following three steps will give you a starting point in the roadmap of improving board performance:

Step 1: Identify the cycle

During board meetings, focus on what is happening at the board meeting. What is the cycle of your interaction? Do you feel at ease or stressed out? Do you feel energized or exhausted? When discussing difficult subjects, do you feel like everyone gets a chance to participate? Or do you feel shut down and withdraw? Be aware of the roles that board members play during each meeting.

How can being aware of your cycle can improve the productivity of the meeting?

When you become aware of what is happening, you can start making small changes in your responses to what’s being said or done, and ultimately influence others on your board. Being aware of the interaction cycle is a crucial step in impacting the performance of your board.

Step 2: Identify the emotions

Pay attention to the emotions that your fellow directors and CEO are exhibiting during board meetings. Do some of them appear to be stressed? Which ones appear relaxed? Who appears to be engaged and who seems to withdraw?

Emotions are contagious. Emotional reactions impact each director’s performance. When one director feels anxious or stressed, it affects others in the group without anyone necessarily saying a word.

During board meetings, it is important to be accessible – remain open to others’ ideas even if you feel stressed or preoccupied with other concerns. This may be difficult at times, as you struggle with your own emotions making sure not to get overwhelmed. It is important to be responsive—pay attention to other people’s emotional cues to make them feel safe. This will help them know that you care about their point of view and want their participation. And finally, it is important to be engaged—stay emotionally present by asking questions that would help to identify the intent of the decision and provide helpful feedback to the ideas, validating each person’s concerns.

When you remain accessible, responsive, and engaged, you help your fellow directors to solve problems faster and provide answers that otherwise may elude them.

Step 3: Identify clear messages

To create safety in the boardroom, it is critical that directors send clear messages to each other that they are committed to the board’s business and care about the company’s success. This might be interpreting emotional reactions and occasional passionate outbursts during discussions as expressions of how much they care about the business at hand and, ultimately, about each other.

Recently we have seen a failure of board performance in French mobile carriers, Orange and Bouygues. Orange was in talks to purchase Bouygues which would have eased competition in the market and given them the breathing room to save on costs and improve customer service. The deal was poised to be a success, but the Orange board was unable to handle the clashing personalities of the Orange CEO, Stephane Richard, and Bouygues CEO, Martin Bouygues. Because they were not emotionally prepared, they got caught in a negative cycle which inevitably led to the failure of a very valuable deal.

When your board gets stuck because of stress or disagreement, take time to get the message clear by saying, “We all care about this company. We care about our CEO’s performance. We all want the company to succeed. We get caught in the cycle of fighting for our safety. When we can feel safe with each other, we can resolve differences and make our company successful. We need each other to make this happen.” Articulating this type of shared understanding will help you to refocus your board’s attention in times of stress and aligned with each other to resolve issues in order to accomplish set tasks.

For more information about board dynamics and team connection, please contact us.