International governance expert Dr John Carver is on record as having said that just because you establish a group of intelligent, competent and caring individuals does not mean that as a group they’ll make intelligent, competent and caring decisions.
He argues further that all too often it’s because we as human beings lack the courage to say what we really think, for a variety of reasons.
And yet, it’s the cocktail of differing points of view – in life as much as around the boardroom table – that invariably leads to healthy and robust discussion and debate…and generally speaking, great decision-making.
So what is it that prevents us from displaying this courage – and more importantly, how can we rediscover our mettle?
Our courage may be sapped for a range of reasons. It might be that a major shareholder is on the board and has the power to vote us off it. And if we’re dependent on our directors’ fees, we’re understandably loathe to upset the apple cart and perhaps risk our position.
Then again, there might be a bully on the board and it’s just too hard and too unpleasant to take them on…or there’s someone who never gives up on a position and, by sheer exhausting attrition, eventually gets their way.
Add to the mix the psychological occurrence of Group Think and we’re destined for harmony at the expense of good decisions.
Group Think fuels an overwhelming desire for acquiescence and conformity, with members working to minimise conflict. Sadly, they run the serious risk of sacrificing critical evaluation of differing viewpoints and usually end up arriving at dysfunctional outcomes.
I’ve seen this on numerous occasions when, in the process of conducting board performance evaluations, I’ve been invited to sit in on board meetings and follow the decision-making process. I’ve then chatted with the individual board members after the meeting and often they’d say: “I’m not really sure about that decision but as everyone else seemed in favour, I went along with it”.
So how do we guard against this damaging trait…what tactics can we apply to deal with these scenarios?
In my experience and especially on major decisions, it’s advisable to get management to develop and present alternate solutions, all of which are put to the board for debate, discussion and a decision.
But perhaps the most effective tactic is to role play.
There’s the Devil’s Advocate approach, where you agree that the role of the board, just for now, is to play the Devil’s Advocate on management’s proposal. Or you might wish to adopt Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, a tool for group discussion and individual thinking involving six coloured hats, each requiring us to consider decisions from a number of important perspectives.
While there are countless role play techniques, there’s but one spectacularly singular outcome: when we’re comfortably ensconced in the role bubble, we feel liberated enough to pick holes in the decision and convey our true feelings.
After all, it’s not ‘us’, it’s the role we’re playing…so neither praise us nor condemn us for our decision!
Until next time,