12 Effective Strategies to Becoming a Functional Board
Boards serve the critical function of governance and the strategic direction of the company. Dysfunction at the board level often spills over to the management of the company and throughout the organization. If the board you serve on has been struggling with progress, lack of transparency, engagement, and continuous conflicts, here are some effective strategies that can transition your board from being dysfunctional to functional.
Attachment science tells us that human beings are wired for connection. When people work together and depend on each other (having the same goals and objectives) our mammalian brain turns on bonding needs. Emotional connection is the glue that holds the bond. Dysfunction at the board or among members is the result of members lost their connection or have become disconnected. In response, their brains automatically respond to the disconnect with ineffective strategies that create further dysfunction.
Understanding the impact of board relationships and our innate need for emotional connection can help you start making changes to become a more functional and effective board. Here are 12 tips to reconnect, reengage, and nurture your connection with members of your board:
- Create emotional safety. Emotional safety is key to transparency, communication, and creativity. Learning how to ask questions that elicits conversations rather than position on issues can help create an emotionally safe environment for sharing information and discussing difficult topics. A connected and safe board environment is critical to good governance.
- Form positive alliances by being emotionally responsive. Forming positive alliances helps the board to stay focused and aligned on the organizational goals and strategy. Addressing worries and concerns by tunning into emotions and being emotionally responsive will help members feel heard and understood, forming an alliance in board relationships.
- Take a non-judgemental stance. No matter how strong or mature directors are, they can become emotionally disengaged and step into a defensive mode when they feel judged, blamed, or attacked. After such experiences, if not addressed, directors may be physically present, but they may not be emotionally present, leading to problems down the road. To prevent this from happening, take a non-judgemental stance by validating concerns and worries; this is not agreement but rather, validation. It allows members to remain emotionally engaged and present.
- Remain accessible in times of stress. When we feel stressed, we may pull away, but underneath, we desire to reach out and connect with others. It is not always easy to remain accessible when you are out of balance yourself. Accessing your own emotions and sharing them with your fellow board members will help them understand your concerns and send them a clear message on how much you care. Processing emotions rather than shutting down provides a way to use your resources effectively in times of stress.
- Empathize. Putting yourself into other people’s shoes is difficult, especially in times of stress. However, during stressful moments, it is important to make space for expressing and empathizing with difficult emotions so that no one feels alone. Directors must feel heard and understood for them to make the right decisions. Emotions such as fear or surprise can create overwhelming feelings and can slow our cognitive abilities. Using empathy relaxes the amygdala (the emotional brain) and helps the prefrontal cortex (the thinking brain) to keep functioning.
- Monitor engagement. Disengagement is a sign of conflict. When people disengage, they are giving you the signals that they have lost their connection with some of the board members. Disengagement puts the board and the company at risk. Learn how to reconnect directors so that they continue to participate and engage. Find ways to encourage everyone to participate by asking questions that are engaging and supportive of various positions. This helps directors feel valued, come prepared to board meetings and participate in discussions that are necessary for good decisions.
- Be attuned to your own emotions. Emotions are powerful. When not aware, emotions can hijack the thinking brain (the prefrontal cortex) and use a lot of our glucose to push emotions down or avoid them. Learning the language of emotions to express emotions, and be aware of the impact you have on each other, will help you be more equipped to tune into each other so that you can notice when the disconnection occurs.
- Keep exploring. Being inquisitive of what is happening and asking, “Why am I feeling this way?” or “What happens to you when I said….” helps us recognize the impact we have on each other. Learning how to tune into yourself and others helps to understand the underlying reasons for our responses and reactions. Keep being curious about yourself and others around you to heighten your awareness.
- Track and reflect. Think of interaction as a dance and emotion is the music. Track and reflect the interactional process that happens in your discussions. See if you can pick up on the music that is happening on the dance floor. Reflect to slow down the process so directors feel heard and understood. This allows you to direct the music and dance in the right direction. Engage by saying, “Could you help me to understand…” to ensure that directors get a clear message that their opinions and engagement are important to you.
- Reframe reactions into positive responses. Emotions are contagious. Negative emotions such as frustration and disappointment can stir discussions in the wrong direction. By reframing how much directors care about the topic, the organization, and each other can shift the energy in the room from negative to positive. Use statements such as, “I can hear how much this matters to you. I can see how much you care,” brings the balance back to the conversation.
- Shape board relationships. Disagreements can be difficult to manage when people are emotionally disconnected. By learning the Emotional Connection (EmC) process, people gain skills to recognize, process, and regulate emotions. Board relationships play a key role in the organization’s success. By learning the EmC process, you will begin your pathway to shape board relationships that eventually lead you to make better decisions for the company.
- Form a secure bond. Bringing everyone together requires skills and knowledge. When people feel valued, important, mattered, and cared for, they feel safe, trusted, and connected. Make the point of creating moments of connection where directors can share their experiences authentically and honestly. These moments can provide an opportunity for you to clarify the message on how much you value them, how important they are, how much they matter, and how much you cared about their experience.
We worked with over 500+ cases of organizational intervention helping individuals, teams, and organizations to thrive. We can help you to integrate the EmC strategy to create a functional board. For more information on the process of emotional connection, please contact us at [email protected].