Expert Coaching. Practical Resources.

April 11, 2017

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Andrew Bergen

Sunrise, Sunset

Not long ago, I was on a Skype call with an individual who was in a time zone 9 hours later than mine. During the conversation, I asked if he could give me a minute as I needed to get up and close the blinds. The sun had just risen above the rooftops across the street from our house and the brilliant sunlight was making it impossible for me to see the screen. The person on the other end of the call chuckled and said, “I need to get up and close my blinds too. The sun is setting here and pouring too much light onto my screen as well.” That was a neat moment. We were, in real time, looking at the same sun from completely opposite perspectives. What seemed like a great distance between us (12,456km) was suddenly reduced to an object we could both see simultaneously.

Effective board meetings can be like this as well. I have often sat in (and chaired) meetings where the goal seemed to be that everyone must agree. Of course, at some point, for any decision to be made or for any motion to pass there must be enough consensus or agreement on the board. However, boards often rush to agreement or decision before diverse and potentially opposite points of view are explored – even welcomed. As George S. Patton once said, “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” Plenty of research shows that disagreement and, yes, even healthy conflict lead to better decisions. Patrick Lencioni’s model “5 Behaviors of Cohesive Teams” lists ‘Embracing Conflict’ as a foundational activity for any group. He defines conflict as the willingness and ability to address disagreement with candor and respect. Until such time as all perspectives are welcomed and explored, a group will lack the ability to buy in and commit to any decision made.

How then, might a board encourage diversity in thinking at its table? There are many ways to do so. A very short list is:

  1. Engage in a world café process. This is a way for an entire group to rotate among different subjects and allows all individuals to participate. This would be useful when a board is setting policy, especially Ends. Instructions can be found here.
  1. Use dotmocracy. This is a process of allowing even the quietest members to have an equally clear and empowered voice. Use when needing to clarify direction when multiple perspectives are present. Click here for some useful resources.
  1. Lead a mind mapping activity. This is a free-form brainstorming process that makes the interrelatedness of seemingly unrelated issues become clear. There are many ways to do this; some good advice can be found here.

Of course, there are numerous other techniques and processes that help generate diversity of thinking in a group. A simple search in your internet browser will return thousands! Whichever method is chosen, the principle remains – encourage and welcome diversity at your board table. You will then be able to make more powerful and effective decisions.

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