Your board of directors is crucial to your organization’s success. This group offers outside perspectives and invaluable expertise while holding leadership accountable and providing governance, oversight, and strategy to support your business.
As a business leader, it’s worth it to invest in your board of directors. A high-performing board of directors sets the tone for a high-performing business. Simply put, your entire organization benefits when your board performs at its best. And the key to optimal board performance is community.
What Does Community Mean for Your Board?
Building community within your board of directors means creating an environment of psychological safety. It’s a culture built on trust, mutual respect, and collaboration. Aim for your board to operate as a community of contributors that exhibits the traits of a high-performing team:
- Cohesion and trust
- Clearly defined processes, systems, and structure
- Clearly defined roles
- Timely, respectful communication
In any situation where you’re part of a group—a social group, a business group, a political group—you have to have psychological safety, and that begins with the leader. The CEO and the board chair are responsible to ensure that every voice on the board is heard and respected. Communities don’t always have to agree, but when disagreements arise, they have to be healthy debate. Everyone’s contributions and opinions need to be respected, and each role on your board needs to be valued.
Diverse representation is another key component of community. Your board of directors needs to have a diverse makeup of people—and that doesn’t just mean skin color, gender, or age. It includes socioeconomic diversity, different demographics, and people with a range of skills, experiences, and backgrounds. Ideally, your board is a community that unites many perspectives. Additionally, your board community should represent the community that your company operates within. If you’re a global company, your board has to represent a global community.
Why Does Community Matter for Your Board?
Fostering community among your board members is a valuable pursuit as a business leader because all organizations function the best when they operate as a community. Your board of directors exists to serve your business. You’re doing your own business a disservice if you allow your board to operate at suboptimal or dysfunctional levels.
A certain level of community—an environment of mutual respect, cooperation, and teamwork among members—is necessary in order for your board to operate as a high-performing team and, therefore, adequately serve your business. Nothing gets done by a board that lacks community. On the other hand, when board members put aside their egos, approach their work with an open mind, and communicate respectfully, your business will benefit from the skills, expertise, and knowledge you recruited your board members to provide. Within a culture of community, your board is equipped to best serve your organization.
How Do You Build Community for Your Board?
Establishing a sense of community within your board begins with leadership. After all, communities of all types require careful management and responsible leadership, or they turn into clusters. As CEO or board chair, you must prioritize psychological safety to build community within the board.
To nurture psychological safety, establish an open environment where everyone has a voice. Don’t allow the strongest voices to dominate conversations. As chair of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization board, I often knew the order in which I wanted to call on people to ensure I would hear everyone’s voice and accomplish what we needed to do.
Another component of building community is helping your board overcome the five dysfunctions of a team as detailed by Pat Lencioni and the Table Group:
- Absence of trust
- Fear of conflict
- Lack of commitment
- Avoidance of accountability
- Inattention to results
Leaders carry tremendous responsibility to set the tone for their board community to flourish. Without community—and the highest level of psychological safety among members—a board of directors will never reach the level of effectiveness that the organization needs.
Next Steps for Your Board Community
Improving the culture of your board of directors begins with honest self-reflection, examination, and feedback. Think about the role you play in your board’s community. Examine the structure of your board and the patterns of interaction among your members. Seek feedback from your board members and look for ways to improve the sense of psychological safety on your board.
Questions to Consider
- How would you define the sense of community on your board?
- Do you have the right mix of people and appropriately diverse representation on your board?
- Does your board have psychological safety?
Contact me if you’d like to discuss how to nurture a sense of community among your board of directors. I’d love to help you learn more about leadership development, the role of boards, and high-performing teams.