Great performance starts with great relationships

What criteria does your company use when recruiting new board members or executive team leaders?

My guess is that professional credentials, experience, track record and subject matter expertise are at the top of the list. Interpersonal and relationship skills, while obviously important, would be ranked somewhat lower down that list. And that’s a logical approach.

Robust conversations depend on building trust first

However, the problem with this ‘safe’ approach is that it ignores the group and interpersonal dynamics that are the hallmark of successful companies.

Board members in particular need to be able to debate constructively and learn how to work cohesively as the decisions they make affect the lives and welfares of many stakeholders – shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers and communities. In order to make the best commercial decision for all stakeholders, both board members and executive team leaders need to be able to express themselves appropriately and listen to others patiently. Optimal decisions can only be reached in an environment of trust where vigorous debate is encouraged, contra opinions sought, and all views solicited. And as Patrick Lencioni strongly asserts in his popular book “The 5 Dysfunctions of Teams“, the absence of trust is the number one cause of teams underperforming. Company boards are no different.

Here are four methods which have proven track records at increasing the level of trust at senior levels within an organisation.

Informal time together matters

So how do you build trust in such high-powered environments with a group of professionally successful and strong-willed individuals? As John Popper, the former CEO of P&G and Chairman at Disney points out, boards need to spend informal time together and encourage an environment of social interaction so that they can engage in sensitive, candid conversations. Without informal time together, boards don’t develop the trust necessary to make the right decisions.

Self-Profiling Tools

I’ve seen first-hand how the lack of trust has hindered the ability for boards and executive teams to work effectively. One way to jump start the trust process is to ask executive teams and boards to use profiling tools such as MBTI or DiSC and share their profiles with others. We used this successfully with a multibillion-dollar Asian investment company where the absence of trust was hampering group cohesion and performance.

360s for the Individual AND the Team

An even more powerful approach is for an executive team to go through a 360 process such as LMAP or LSI and share their profiles with other members of the team. Personality and Behaviour based 360s such as LMAP help executives gain the deep personal insight they need on how to be more effective individually. More importantly, by sharing these insights, they build trust with their fellow team member, create a mutually supportive environment. I’ve seen this process work successfully with diverse organisations in the hospitality, education, health and not-for-profit sectors. The key of using this method was to establish trust between the team members so they could work together better and build their organisation more effectively and faster.

Organisation Theatre

And if your board and/or executive team are open enough, the gold standard to develop trust and mutual understanding is to use organisational theatre interventions such as Forum Theatre. These interventions provide deep insight by showing the familiar from an unfamiliar perspective and act as a catalyst for change. If you’d like to learn more about these interventions, click here for an article I co-authored.

Technical skills, industry expertise and a clear understanding of director’s responsibilities are key criteria when assessing board member and executive team leader appointments. But interpersonal skills are crucial to create an environment where trust flourishes – and as a result, the organisation does too.

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