Sustaining board unity during coronavirus

Finding a way through the current crisis will inevitably give rise to tensions at board level. Critical to managing these tensions is uniting directors behind a shared set of values.

Although this might seem like an exercise for a less hectic time, values define how a group goes about making decisions and difficult choices. Without a shared belief system, it can become all too easy for directors to get into negative conversations based on their own different viewpoints. The danger being that when we come from a fixed mindset, based on our own beliefs, our focus is on defending our viewpoint and building evidence to support our point of view, instead of using shared principles to work with others to find the best solutions.

Critical to creating this shared belief system is establishing the values to underpin the board’s decision-making. Take, for example, a bank which has a difficult decision to make about allowing people to delay paying their mortgages at the current time, but not for so long that they risk incurring debts they might not be able to repay. This could easily give rise to conflicting opinions, but having agreed values, such as the value to ‘treat customers fairly’, creates a shared framework which can be used to encourage debate around how best to ‘live’ those values when faced with difficult dilemmas.

In this sense, a board environment that allows people to safely voice concerns and differences of opinion, while also anchoring them to shared values, will experience less conflict and find more creative solutions than one where directors have to resort to using their own individual values, and potentially conflicting moral beliefs, to create and defend a position.

So, if you want a united board, think about which values can be used to anchor decision making.

Alison Gill is a behavioural psychologist, a founding director and CEO of Bvalco and a lead tutor and Advisory Board Member for the FT’s Non-Executive Director Diploma. A former Olympian, she specialises in the human behaviour that can contribute to, or undermine, board effectiveness.

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