Tip #82 Board Meeting Discussions May Tend to be Irrational Unless ....

July 1, 2022  |  tips for effective boards

Board Meeting discussions may tend to be irrational unless steps are taken to counter individual and group tendencies towards irrationality. In this Tips for Effective Boards we will focus on the tendency of individuals towards irrationality and in the next Tips for Effective Boards we will focus on how group process can undermine rational group decision-making.   


Interestingly, the way to counter both of these factors is to become aware of them and take proactive steps to develop and nurture a board culture that supports rational decision-making. (More about this later.)


So, in this Tips for Effective Boards we focus on the individual.


In a very interesting book titled The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haight makes the following points in the first 100 or so pages of his book:


1.       Individuals tend to make quick intuitive tentative decisions.

2.       These intuitive decisions are influenced by DNA proclivities, family upbringing, one’s culture, and also by other individuals and groups valued by the individual. 

3.       After such a tentative intuitive decision is made, an individual tends to look for information that confirms this initial decision and tends to overlook and disregard information that may run counter to this initial decision. (“confirmation bias,” a phrase coined in 1960 by English psychologist Peter Wason)

4.       Once an individual makes such a decision, the individual is not very likely to change his or her decision as a result of research he or she conducts. (again, “confirmation bias”)

5.       If an individual is to change his or her initial decision, this is more likely to happen as a result of communication from one or more persons valued highly by the individual and/or from a highly valued group of which the individual is a member.

6.       Further, such an individual is more likely to be receptive to alternative views expressed by valued individuals and groups if he or she feels warmth, respected, listened to, and understood by such individuals and groups.


So, if boards wish to counter such individual tendencies towards irrationality, they are challenged to first be aware of such tendencies and then to strive to develop and nurture a board culture with characteristics such as the following:

·         promote constructive group cohesiveness,

·         recruit board members with diverse backgrounds and experience,

·         access perspectives and information from outside the boardroom,

·         encourage widespread participation of board members in board meeting discussions,

·         encourage an openness to learning from others,

·         encourage, respect, and actively explore alternative viewpoints,

·         develop shared understanding of differing viewpoints,

·         encourage board members to speak their position and let it go, not taking opposing viewpoints as a criticism,

·         don’t rush to a decision, and

·         establish official ground rules that incorporate expectations about board meeting process conducive to rational decision-making.

(More about how to do these, after we focus on group pressure towards irrationality in our next Tip for Effective Boards.)


By the way, I found Jonathan Haight’s book fascinating. Its full title and publication information for the paperback edition follow: Jonathan Haight. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion. New York: Vintage Books, 2013). I read this book after it was recommended at an advanced board governance two-day seminar that I attended virtually in February.


To learn more about the Policy Governance® model, please click https://www.BoardsOnCourse.com/policy-governance.