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Better Board Meetings – challenging behaviour in the boardroom

We all want to go to board meetings where a group of competent people discuss issues and challenge each other in constructive ways to agree decisions for the good of the organisation. The board is a team, and like all teams it consists of individuals with their own styles, attitudes and behaviours.  A good Chair will recognise this, and work to bring out the best in each board member. There may also be times when they need to manage conflict or bad behaviours in the boardroom.

Some of the personalities you may find in the boardroom include:

The Shrinking Violet

Even in the boardroom, some people feel shy and unwilling to give their opinion. Asking them direct questions, and thank them for their contribution when they do speak up to encourage more input. Give them a ‘pet topic’ in advance that you want them to present their thinking on.

The Sniper

The Sniper is a person who takes pot-shots at the ideas of others. They can sometimes whisper a lot to neighbours during the meeting. Ask them to share their opinion with the whole group.

The Historian

The Historian is comfortable looking backwards, and constantly revisits old issues and old ways of doing things. Try getting them to be more forward looking by asking what action needs to be taken now.

The Expert

The Expert has a great deal of knowledge and loves to share it. This may be in the form of technical knowledge or experience of similar situations. It can be useful to pull this knowledge out for the benefit of the whole group, and try to encourage experts to put it in ways everyone can understand and use. Alternatively, summarise their points in your own words.

The Eager Beaver

The Eager Beaver is a person who volunteers a lot. This can be really useful as long as they get the job done. If it becomes clear they are taking too much on, highlight the other work they have on their plate, and ask other board members to step in.

The Hippo

The Hippo is almost the opposite of the Eager Beaver, in that they rarely volunteer. Put them on the spot by asking them directly if the action is something they could do.

The Whiner

People who whine in meetings can really irritate and demotivate others. Give them respect for their opinions and give them specific tasks to do.

From time to time a decision may cause controversy and spark conflict in the boardroom. When this happens, be sure to ask each and every board member for their opinion and ensure they are all heard without interruption (although you may put a time limit on contributions). Acknowledge each view. Remind all board members of their primary duty to promote the success of the organisation so as to reduce the impact of any hidden agendas. The Chair should always be calm and collected, so avoid being drawn in to arguments, and always keep your tone low and measured. This can help ‘slow down’ the meeting. Always remain focused on the meeting objectives by asking “What are we trying to do?, How can we achieve our objective? Is this the best thing for our organisation?”. If the decision is not urgent, it may be wise to delay it, to allow for reflection and further research.

There can also be a danger that ‘groupthink’ develops in the boardroom. Have a read at our groupthink blog if you would like more information.

We have given some pointers about how to deal with some specific behaviours you may see at board meetings. One of the best ways to encourage good behaviour is by having a code of conduct for board members which everyone signs up to. Using a code of conduct which is aligned to the values of the organisation helps set the tone from the top, and influences the culture of the organisation in a positive way.