Healthy Conflict is Good to Enhance Board Effectiveness

Directors and Boards magazine and Nasdaq offered last week a complimentary webcast on the referred topic, featuring Joan Conley, Corporate Secretary of Nasdaq, and Howard Brownstein, President of Brownstein Corporation.

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Maximizing the Board’s return for the effort required, both individually and as a group, has become an important consideration nowadays. As Boards become more diverse and new members with different personalities, skills and backgrounds get incorporated, active discussions and conflicts naturally increased. And, unfortunately, because we are dealing with humans, many conflicts include, one way or another, personal issues connected with the dispute.

For Board effectiveness to maintain in balance, notwithstanding these healthy and expected conflicts is important for Board members to have a shared understanding and communicated protocol for conflict resolution. 

Both speakers shared other valuable recommendations, based on their experiences as Corporate Secretary, in the case of Joan, and Board member, in the case of Howard. Some of the recommendations covered in the webcast that resonated more to me were:

  • Acclimatize new Board members to Board Culture: for example, encourage healthy onboarding through Mentorship Program
  • Rotate Board Committees members to promote addressing many issues and handling different matters
  • Leverage seating arrangements during meetings to promote spending time with different Board members
  • Explicitly recognize the value of open and honest discussion, being open to differing viewpoints and showing patience, tolerance and respect
  • Appoint one member to be the designated speak person before the stakeholders; this is particularly useful with activists
  • Avoid the tendency to ‘step over’ Board conflict; instead, deal with it openly
  • Separate the difference in opinions from the drama attached to them; make sure to bring down and discourage the personal drama. 

In sum, the best practice – especially if you are the Board Chair – may be to always start your response by saying “you may be right…”, as you will generally do in marriage!

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