The two must-haves for Board Development? Trust and Tone

01 February 2016

I’ve been struck this week by just how important trust and tone are at Board level.

I regularly work with Boards that are confronted by and forced to deal with complexity on an enormous scale. The real challenge, of course, is finding the time it takes to understand and absorb enough of this complexity so they can provide an effective strategic steer, all within the limits of the time the Board members actually have – precious little.

When whole systems are transforming – as seen recently across health, social care, criminal justice, and technology – senior executives struggle just to hold onto this complexity and manage all the ambiguity and ambivalence, let alone Board members who often have significant roles in other companies.

If Boards take the time to build a climate where people trust each other to tell it as it is, to challenge constructively, to acknowledge when it all ‘makes their head hurt’ and move on and find a way through, and to enjoy the intellectual stimulation of each other’s company, in the main it works well. If this investment has been made, then people get the tone right too. They ask genuine questions, rather than making disguised digs. They really do respect the fact that someone’s contribution may not always be at the right strategic level, but that they are providing a piece of the jigsaw from their perspective which is also useful, and their tone is fundamentally respectful.

Working with Boards and leadership teams that understand this is one of the many things I really do love about my job. If the trust and tone is right, a Board has a real chance of being exceptional. Without these things, it’s impossible to have an inclusive Board that leverages difference, sets the tone for the whole company, and achieves wonderful things.