When a board asks us to help with its development, the same questions and issues recur:
- can you help us take stock?
- we need to think about succession planning
- our regulator says we need a plan
- we have a new chair and we want to develop our working relationships together
- some of our executives need coaching
In our experience, presenting issues such as these can be symptomatic of something else, perhaps linked to the dynamics of the governance system.
Boards of directors often find themselves caught in mutually interdependent cycles of behaviour with other parts of their governance systems. They may know what is driving these dynamics, but there is a challenge for them in acting upon this knowledge. Groups and individual directors similarly can find themselves stuck in patterns of behaviour that prevent them from acting authentically or taking initiative. In complex and turbulent environments there can be significant risks in being out of touch.
When we are invited to work with a board we offer a variety of activities, including:
- Scoping – we form a view on what is going on beneath the surface of the presenting issues.
- Group activity – we explore the shared perception of what is happening, often through a nonverbal exercise.
- System-based activity – perhaps fishbowl or co-consulting. We broaden the context to take account of the governance system (which is often invisible to directors and neglected by them).
- Conversations – we proliferate the exchange of views between directors and other key figures in the governance system, so that the board has a chance to think together based on lively, engaging relationships.
- Engagement with critical governance issues such as assurance, risk and strategy – with observers to provide feedback about what may really be going on.
Our board development assignments always include a distinctive element of close observation of how the board is working together. We also help clients to develop this observational capacity for themselves.
With our unique approach, we have worked with boards to bring about the following changes:
- redesigning governance systems for new strategies;
- creating a director development programme that incorporates reflective practice, challenging the status quo and encouraging innovation;
- redesigning governance models to ensure that nonexecutive directors more fully grasp the complexity of the context in which they are governing;
- thinking through how to handle the horizontal governance systems required in partnerships and how these relate to the vertical governance systems of a hierarchy.