As I attend more and more virtual board meetings, I can’t help wondering about the effect on board dynamics.
In brief, board dynamics refers to the way that individual board directors interact with each other. You can see a board’s dynamics through the language that directors use, how they constructively challenge and debate each other, and the way they make decisions.
When I think about board dynamics, it reminds me that a board of directors is a group of human beings, not just a collection of rules and processes. To quote a recent article by Meena Thuraisingham in the Australian Institute of Company Directors magazine,
“The process of governing does not occur in a social vacuum.”
Every board takes on the collective personality of its members. This plays out in the behaviors, routines and social norms that the board develops. It contributes to the expectations – whether stated or unstated – that every board member tries to understand and live up to in order to fit in. Consciously or unconsciously, it affects how directors think and act, what they are willing to say and how they say it.
There is a lot of research out there demonstrating that the quality of board members’ interaction is crucial to board effectiveness.
But let’s face it, we didn’t really need the research to tell us that, did we? If you have participated in both functional and dysfunctional boards, as I have, then you already know the difference that board dynamics can make.
Positive board dynamics contribute to director engagement, meaningful discussion, good decisions and positive outcomes. All of which translates to a higher level of satisfaction for directors like you and me.
Board dynamics are linked to culture. A board with positive dynamics looks more like a high-performing team than a collection of random individuals. It is characterized by:
Board dynamics are a product of the interpersonal relationships among individual board members. Think about a recent (in-person) board interaction, such as a spirited discussion, that you were a part of. No doubt, some directors dominated the conversation while others stayed relatively quiet. A good Board Chair takes note of this imbalance, watches for visual cues such as facial expressions and body language, and encourages quiet directors to speak up and participate in the discussion. This enhances the quality of the board’s decision, of course, but it also helps to strengthen the social norm where everyone is expected to speak up and share their views.
Virtual collaboration requires that everyone be mentally present and engaged.
Think also about what occurred before and after the meeting, during breaks, or maybe at lunch or dinner. Everyone dropped the formality of their board personas and engaged as equals talking about subjects of common interest – sports, entertainment, travel, or even just the weather. These informal moments, repeated over time, help to lower barriers and cement feelings of trust.
When meetings become virtual, a great deal of this kind of interaction is lost. Board dynamics can’t help but be affected.
Studies of virtual meetings have found the following challenges:
When a board has a long history of meeting in person, and the board culture and board dynamics are already firmly in place, a few virtual meetings are not going to change this. But if you are a new director joining that board, the virtual board room is your reality, and it can be quite difficult to appreciate and fit into the subtleties of the board’s interrelationships.
As an individual director, you can’t totally change the board’s dynamics, but you can control your own reactions and the part you play in the board’s culture. The importance of some of these key behaviors is amplified in a virtual setting.
Scott Baldwin is a certified corporate director (ICD.D) and co-founder of DirectorPrep.com – an online hub with hundreds of guideline questions and resources to help prepare for your next board meeting.
Share Your Insight: What ideas do you have to help overcome the challenges of virtual board meetings?