An effective Board of Directors needs to become greater than the sum of its parts. Without a collaborative approach, a group of talented individuals can fail to realise their team potential – to the company’s cost. Board collaboration benefits directors to work together in a positive, energised way a crucial step on the path to success, but it can be easier said than done in the prevailing corporate climate. Directors are frequently time-poor, working from disparate locations and time zones, and communication outside official meetings can be sporadic and limited in scope. With that in mind, here are five tips for better board collaboration that combine culture, processes and technology to tackle those issues and help boost performance.
1. Board collaboration and setting clear expectations
Board directors are selected for their expertise in areas relevant to the company. They are often very successful individuals in their own field who are accustomed to leadership. This doesn’t automatically guarantee that they will be great at working in collaboration. In fact, one of the challenges that many board chairs face is managing the strong personalities that are often present in the boardroom and formulating a dynamic that helps them to work together productively for effective board collaboration.
It’s important that the Chair sets a clear expectation that the Board will function collaboratively and underlines the way that committees, structures and support systems are in place to support this approach. By doing this, the Chair can drive an explicit culture of collaboration and enable better outcomes and overall performance.
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2. Support directors with collaborative technology
Having set an expectation of collaboration, it is important to provide directors with technology that supports that aim. Teams work more effectively when all members have access to the information that they need, when they need it, in a format that works for them. Providing directors with collaborative technology such as a Board portal means that they have fast, intuitive access to agendas, board meeting materials, minutes and more. This enables directors to schedule preparation for meetings around their other commitments and to work in a way that is convenient, familiar and aligns with how they work outside of their board duties.
A further benefit to using board portals to share meeting materials is increased security, an important consideration in an increasingly challenging cybersecurity environment.
3. Communication underpins board collaboration with directors
As the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw put it: “The problem with communication… is the illusion that it has been accomplished.” Effective communication between Board directors should be the bedrock of collaborative culture, yet too often, it can be limited to meetings themselves. Communication between the Board and the CEO is also essential to creating a constructive relationship between the two.
Encouraging more regular communication between directors, and between the Board and the CEO, has to be proactively driven by the CEO and the Board Chair. Some CEOs opt for more informal between-meeting updates for directors, which provide an opportunity to share an insight into the character of the organisation and highlight aspects that might not always be raised in more formal meetings. Board Chairs should ensure that they regularly liaise with directors to promote ongoing engagement and momentum within the Board and with the Executive team.
Of course, while increasing the quantity and quality of communication between directors and the CEO is desirable, companies must also consider the channel through which those communications take place. Board/CEO discussions can contain some of the most sensitive information relating to the company, yet directors, being outside of the corporate IT network, often use personal email, messaging apps and SMS to communicate. Clearly, this kind of distributed communication is a significant security risk which needs to be mitigated. It also opens up the possibility of back channel communications taking place, to the detriment of proper Board decision-making. By using board management software to provide a secure messaging system, companies can encourage directors to communicate openly with one another and the CEO, while also being confident that messages will remain fully confidential and secure against accidental or deliberate interception.
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4. Directors duties and clear action items for successful board collaboration
Successful board collaboration requires appropriate delegation of duties and a commitment by individual directors and committees to carrying them out. Committees must be empowered to work independently to deliver recommendations to the full Board. To achieve this, the composition of committees must be carefully considered to ensure that directors’ talents are focused on the most appropriate challenges and members have complementary skill sets and character traits that will perform strongly together.
Uncertainty is a hindrance to successful board collaboration, as it can result in either duplicated work or an important item falling through the gaps, which, in turn, fosters a lack of trust within the group. It’s therefore crucial that everyone understands what actions and contributions are expected of them.
Here the board meeting minutes can be employed as a tool to ensure clarity. They act as the central source of record of directors’ discussions, decisions and the actions that they have committed to undertaking. Far from being a static document, today’s board management software means that meeting minutes can be used by the board administrator to assign actions to individuals and committees. These can be followed up with automatic reminders to ensure continuing momentum between meetings, thereby increasing director engagement and ensuring that nothing is overlooked.
5. Embrace the process of board evaluation
A process of regular evaluation is essential to fostering and supporting a collaborative culture. Only by measuring its performance can the Board work to improve its performance. Not every organisation will have the time or resources to conduct a full evaluation by external consultants every year, but there are plenty of options to assess Board performance that can and should be carried out in-house. Regular board evaluations should include questions that assess the dynamics between directors and the performance of committees and should also enable the Board Chair to assess areas of weakness and opportunities for external board member training.
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An energised and effective Board of Directors that is empowered to work in collaboration will become greater than the sum of its parts. It provides the leadership and guidance that their company needs whilst also guiding and challenging the CEO and the Executive team to drive their business forward to the sunlit uplands of growth and prosperity. For that reason, supporting effective board collaboration through culture, processes and technology should be a priority for today’s organisations.
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