Is your board a great team?

By Mike Fucci

​​Every organization wants to recruit the most talented leaders to serve on its board. Challenging as that may be, it's only a first step. Gather those talented leaders in a boardroom, and you can quickly appreciate how well they work together as a team. The greatest teams will be those that raise standards, move forward with courage, and prepare the way for the next generation of leaders.​

What makes a team good and what makes a team great

As published in NACD Directorship magazine, November/December 2017, The power of difference special supplement.

Effective governance takes teamwork, and seeing the board as a team—as a coordinated unit—can be helpful when it comes to board composition and boardroom dynamics. It can change the character of the conversations we have in the boardroom and help improve collaboration.

In my 35-year career at Deloitte, I've led, contributed to, and admired a variety of diverse teams. As chair of the board, I've made teamwork one of my top priorities. I've made it a mission to enhance the sense of partnership among Deloitte's partners, principals, and managing directors. For example, during a board retreat at West Point where we went through the Thayer Group's leadership development program, we engaged with retired generals who shared stories of how they've navigated through volatile, complex, and ambiguous environments. Their stories inspired us and through this shared experience, it brought us closer together as a unit.

My experience has taught me that there's an important distinction between what makes a team good and what makes a team great.

First, good teams can deliver results and chalk up wins. Great teams go way beyond that. They don't regard losses or failures as setbacks, but as opportunities to learn. That makes them resilient and innovative. Outcomes—whether good, bad, or indifferent—belong to the entire team, and all team members are mutually accountable and dedicated to learning from each other. Great teams can set aside official titles and assigned roles to discover new ways of working together. To stay great, they help people develop and grow.

Second, the best teams are inclusive, combining different strengths and a diversity of thought to improve performance. They often feature a leader who recognizes the importance of building coalitions—a collection of personal ecosystems—to move critical strategies forward. Leading organizations see the value of inclusion when recruiting for the board. A 2016 survey, conducted by the Alliance for Board Diversity together with Deloitte, found that 65 percent of Fortune 100 boards now have greater than 30 percent board diversity. At the current pace of progress, that number will reach 40 percent by 2025.

Pressure from institutional investors on board composition might help accelerate this trend, but this is an area where boards should lead, not lag. Research from Carnegie Mellon University suggests strong correlations between inclusion and measures of collective intelligence, client or customer satisfaction, and financial performance. Diverse strengths are needed to address today's complex challenges and plan for the future.

No matter the pace of change, as the composition of the boardroom changes, so will the interactions we have there. After all, inclusion means more than giving people a seat at the table. Is the boardroom a place where the team can test ideas, engage in messy conversations, challenge each other, and openly collaborate? Is it a place that encourages courageous thinking? On a great team, respectfully disagreeing or taking a contrarian stance can open up new perspectives that easy consensus or complacency will keep hidden from view.

Managing boardroom dynamics is a leadership responsibility shared equally by all members of the board. How well you work together as a team will have consequences for the performance of your organization now and will set the tenor of its governance for years to come. The greatest teams will be those that raise standards, move forward with courage, and prepare the way for the next generation of leaders.

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