Tip #84 Develop and Nurture a Board Culture that Promotes Rational Decision-Making

September 1, 2022  |  tips for effective boards

In our last two Tips for Effective Boards, we focused on the tendency of individuals toward irrational decision-making and the group process phenomenon of Groupthink which also undermines rational group decision-making. (To check out Tip #82 and Tip #83, just click on https://www.BoardsOnCourse.com/blog.) An important first step in countering these influences is to be aware that they are real factors to be addressed and that boards need to be proactive in developing and nurturing a board culture that promotes rational board decision-making. 


The following is a list of suggestions for boards to develop and nurture a board culture that promotes rational board decision making:


1.       Promote constructive group cohesiveness. Create a board culture in which board members have a feeling of belonging and comfort in the group with an emotional connection to other group members and to the group as a whole. Make time and create opportunities for board member social time. For ideas, see Tips for Effective Boards #33: Is Board Member Social Time Worthwhile? Just click on https://www.BoardsOnCourse.com/blog. However, such a culture needs to include an expectation of respectful disagreement so that Groupthink is avoided. See Tips for Effective Boards #32: Is Board Cohesiveness Good or Bad? Just click on https://www.BoardsOnCourse.com/blog.     

2.       Recruit board members with diverse backgrounds and experience. Actively seek out board members to achieve demographic and ideological diversity in the boardroom.

3.       Access perspectives and information from outside the boardroom. Seek out alternative viewpoints from your organization’s key stakeholders, from experts in your industry, from relevant data sources, from futurists tracking trends and projecting future possibilities, etc.

4.       Encourage widespread participation of board members in board meeting discussions. You may wish to consider group process techniques such as those described in Tips for Effective Boards #47: How to Get Everyone Engaged in Your Board Meetings. Just click on https://www.BoardsOnCourse.com/blog.  

5.       Encourage an openness to learning from others. Individual board members recognize their own limitations in terms of knowledge and perspectives and seek first to understand what others are saying before seeking to be understood by them.  (a paraphrase of the Prayer of Saint Francis)

6.       Encourage, respect and actively explore alternative viewpoints. Actively seek out alternative viewpoints. Consider having one or more board members express differing viewpoints to stimulate discussion. Consider using a silent vote so dissenting opinions can be expressed without hesitation. Board members listen patiently to understand dissenting viewpoints before countering these.

7.       Develop a shared understanding of differing viewpoints. Take time as a group to flesh out differing viewpoints with their components, possible consequences, pros and cons, etc.

8.       Encourage board members to speak their position and let it go, not taking opposing viewpoints as a criticism. Board members “win” not when their individual positions are adopted by the board but when the board’s group process results in thoughtful, well-considered options and board members support legitimately arrived at group decisions whether they incorporate their individual perspectives or not.

9.       Don’t rush to a decision. Allow time between discussion and actual decision-making, perhaps delaying decision-making to a meeting subsequent to a meeting dedicated to board discussion.

10.   Establish official ground rules that incorporate expectations about board meeting process conducive to rational decision-making.  See Tips for Effective Boards #39: Establish Ground Rules for Effective Board Meetings. Just click on https://www.BoardsOnCourse.com/blog.  



One final note. If your board members hardly ever disagree in board meetings, consider if one or more of the following may be occurring:


1.       There’s insufficient demographic and ideological diversity among board members.

2.       There’s group pressure to “be nice,” to avoid disagreements and to reach consensus.

3.       The board is not dealing with really important difficult issues.


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