How to Improve Board Collaboration

Nicholas J Price
Good collaboration skills serve us well in every aspect of life ' work, family and play. Solid communication and collaboration are the foundation of all good relationships. While good collaboration skills are nice to have in other relationships, they're a necessity for board directorship. Board directors interact with many different factions of people, including senior executives, committee members, lawyers, consultants and their peers. Part of the board members' job is to bring all perspectives into the boardroom. Board directors should be comfortable debating, challenging opinions and bringing forth varied perspectives. The boardroom should be a place where there is mutual trust and consideration despite opposing opinions.

Recognizing the Importance of Good Board Collaboration Skills

Where there is poor collaboration between board directors, the end result will likely be poor board performance. Weak collaboration skills among board members create issues that affect the board's success, which will surely have a negative trickle-down effect on the organization's success. Poor communication skills will compound issues for boards that struggle with dissension and ill-will in the boardroom.

It's difficult to open up with people that you don't have a good relationship with because there is a lack of trust. Poor communication diminishes credibility and undermines the health of relationships.

Good collaboration means more than just talking or connecting. The quality of the conversation has huge merit. When collaborating with board members, be sure to take account of their body language, tone of voice and choice of words.

Don't Avoid Collaborating on Difficult Issues

Great board dynamics don't happen all on their own. Just because one board member continually challenges or questions issues doesn't mean they're being difficult or adversarial. In fact, all board members should be coming to board meetings prepared with reasonable questions.

When tensions arise inside the boardroom, listen for what people aren't saying. Don't be afraid to bring up the elephant in the room. If you notice the board directors seem to be holding back, listen for what they're not saying and try to help bring it to the forefront.

If someone appears angry, annoyed or frustrated, acknowledge it and ask why. You can't go wrong in asking questions for clarification and it might even help to bring difficult issues out in the open. These are all good strategies for addressing the occasional collaboration issues, but when collaboration isn't good on a regular basis, it's best to take another approach.

Put it on the agenda. Good collaboration is necessary for good board performance and corporate success, so when it doesn't happen, it's time to address it straight on. Allow meeting time to brainstorm why the board has a lack of collaboration. Discuss solutions to improve it. Hopefully, the board will identify some strategies for improving collaboration. By nature of getting the problem out in the open, collaboration may improve because all directors become aware of it.

Making Good Board Collaboration Part of the Regular Development Cycle

Interpersonal dynamics are heavily involved with how well people collaborate with each other, but it's also a skill that people can improve and develop. Effective boards evaluate a prospective board director's collaboration skills throughout every stage of the board development cycle, starting with succession planning.

Best practices for good corporate governance don't intend for boards to be static. Regular and gradual board refreshment is good for corporations. Nominating and governance committees should include good collaboration skills on the short-list of requirements for board directors that they're considering for board candidates.

Nominating and governance committees must consider many qualities in selecting new members of the board. Today's boards often need directors with technical or industry-specific expertise. At the same time, they need boardroom skills such as collaborative skills. It's challenging for nominating and governance committees to fill the board with the right set of skills, including boardroom skills, and still get the necessary diversity on their boards.

Good board collaboration is something that boards should also include in their orientation process and in the job description. Hearing the message many times makes it part of the board's culture. As new board members get acclimated to the board, directors should seek opportunities for continued board development where they can learn more about collaboration and work on improving their skills. Team-building exercises can be instrumental in helping to improve board collaborations, and they can also be a lot of fun.

Finally, board self-evaluations are a good time to evaluate the health of the board and how well they work together.

Role of the Board Chair in Good Board Collaborations

An effective board chair sets the tone for the meeting. The person in this position should draw out opinions from all perspectives, making note that part of their responsibility is to challenge thoughts and ideas so that they can conduct due diligence in decision-making.

Setting a trusting tone for the meeting means that the board chair encourages board directors to respect each other's opinions, even when they disagree.

Board Management Software System Bridges the Communication Gap

In general, reliance on electronic devices can hinder relationships. The opposite is true for board directors who collaborate using a board management governance system like Diligent Boards and the suite of board management governance tools in Governance Cloud.

Diligent Boards provides an online platform that connects board directors even when they're geographically distant. Diligent Boards affords board directors access to the board's agenda, meeting materials, minutes and other reports simply by logging into the portal. Having such easy access to information and board materials makes it easy to collaborate and share ideas and information during meetings and between meetings, which fosters better overall engagement from the board.

Diligent is a secure, online space where board directors can mark up and annotate documents and share them with or without the markings.

Board directors can connect with other board directors using any mobile device, so they can stay in contact when they're on the go and at off-hours.

Diligent maintains the highest levels of security on their governance software tools, including Diligent Messenger, which is much more secure than personal or business email accounts. Knowing that discussions will not be leaked or hacked sets the stage for trusting, open board collaborations.

It's more than just personality types, board dynamics and sharing success that improves board collaboration.  Good collaboration inherently comes easier for some boards than others. Whether good collaboration occurs naturally or whether it takes work, all boards would do well to recognize that good collaboration skills are crucial and that they shouldn't skirt around bad board dynamics. Boards need to keep a good eye on board collaboration skills from start to finish in the board development cycle. Board management governance programs encourage good collaborations because of the ease of use, mobility and strong security.
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Nicholas J. Price
Nicholas J. Price is a former Manager at Diligent. He has worked extensively in the governance space, particularly on the key governance technologies that can support leadership with the visibility, data and operating capabilities for more effective decision-making.