April 2011                                                                                                                    Issue 8
 BoardWorks International

Welcome to Issue 8 of Board Works


We begin with an exploration of one of the common challenges in group decision making. In Avoiding Unnoticed and Unwanted Decision-making Excursions we explore the ease with boards (along with other types of group) can easily make decisions that none of the directors would have made individually, left to their own devices. This article is based on an exploration of the 'Abilene Paradox'.


We then examine Is It the Chair's Job to Facilitate the Conversation or Direct the Traffic? This article questions the extent to which a board chair needs to directly control and, potentially, dominate the board's dialogue. The argument is made for a less intrusive, more facilitative approach.


The practice of providing Letters of Appointment to new directors is not as common as the value arising from the discipline would suggest is desirable. This article sets out the main components that might be covered in such letters.


Finally, conscious that a lot of boards express a desire to be 'more strategic' we explore some of the barriers to strategic thinking and suggest ways in which these might be addressed.Is Your Eye On The Road Ahead? also includes a sample of starter questions for the board's strategic dialogue.

Good reading

Graeme Nahkies

In This Issue
Avoiding Unnoticed and Unwanted Decision-making Excursions
Is It the Chair's Job to Facilitate the Conversation or Direct the Traffic
Letters of Appointment
Is Your Eye On The Road Ahead?
Para1Avoiding Unnoticed and Unwanted Decision-making Excursions


All boards have norms of behaviour.  These are seldom explicitly articulated or documented.  One of the most common is the norm of conflict minimisation the consequences, of which, are often some form of 'group think'.  Groupthink typically occurs where there is insufficient challenge to the emergent thinking of a board and poor decision-making is often the result.



Para2Is It the Chair's Job to Facilitate the Conversation or Direct the Traffic?


Issue 8 Article 2 PointsmanA board's meeting style and practices are often very deeply ingrained and enduring. However, some common practices have long since passed their use-by date or are simply inappropriate. For example, the expectation that the chair will be at the centre of every aspect of the board's discourse. Do we really need a chair to direct the conversational traffic like some sort of policeman on point duty?


Para3Letters of Appointment
Letters of AppointmentThe practice of issuing a formal letter of appointment to each new board member should be seriously considered by all boards.  It underlines the importance of the commitment a new board member is entering into and makes explicit a wide range of expectations.  It also provides a new director with other important information relating to their appointment.  The very process of drafting of the letter forces the appointing authority (1) to be clear about conditions attaching to the role.  


Para4Is Your Eye On the Road Ahead?

Issue 8 Article 4Evaluation of past decisions, learning consciously from experience and knowing whether the organisation's performance is on target are important aspects of a board's work. When, however, a board spends the greater part of its meeting time dealing with reports about the past it ignores a fundamental reality. A board can only influence that which has not yet happened! In other words, a board's primary focus should be on the future.


Issue 6 meetings

"Years ago, I tried to top everybody, but I don't anymore. I realized it was killing conversation. When you're always trying for a topper you aren't really listening. It ruins communication." Julius Henry 'Groucho' Marx, 1890 - 1977

Contact Us