The Conversational Capacity® Workshop For Board of Directors

We’ll be fighting the wrong war if we simply tighten procedural rules for boards and ignore their more pressing need—to be strong, high-functioning work groups whose members trust and challenge one another and engage directly with senior managers on critical issues facing corporations.
— Jeffrey Sonnenfeld

Building Boards that Work

One of the most important and challenging activities for any organization is creating a highly effective board of directors. Vital board activities, for example, include defining a high-level mission and strategy; hiring, advising and monitoring the performance of a CEO or executive director; maintaining fiscal accountability; questioning and approving budgets; governing the organization through high-level policies, guidelines, and objectives; and facilitating connections with the broader community. It’s not a casual responsibility.

In order to perform this role well, productive conflict and a willingness to disagree, publicly and rigorously, need to be an integral part of a board’s operating culture. “Bonds among board members,” says Jeffery Sonnenfeld, an expert on corporate governance and a distinguished professor at the Yale School of Management, need to be “strong enough to withstand clashing viewpoints and challenging questions.” Levels of trust, respect, and honesty should be high. The list of undiscussable issues should be low or nonexistent.

Sonnenfeld explains that getting this right depends on a virtuous cycle of respect, trust, and candor:

It’s difficult to tease out the factors that make one group of people an effective team and another, equally talented group of people a dysfunctional one; well-functioning, successful teams usually have chemistry that can’t be quantified. They seem to get into a virtuous cycle in which one good quality builds on another. Team members develop mutual respect; because they respect one another, they develop trust; because they trust one another, they share difficult information; because they all have the same, reasonably complete information, they can challenge one another’s conclusions coherently; because a spirited give-and-take becomes the norm, they learn to adjust their own interpretations in response to intelligent questions.

Perhaps the most important link in this virtuous cycle is the capacity to challenge one another’s assumptions and beliefs. Respect and trust do not imply endless affability or absence of disagreement. Rather, they imply bonds among board members that are strong enough to withstand clashing viewpoints and challenging questions.

A Pivotal Competence

A board is almost always full of smart, highly experienced people with large personalities and strong opinions and views. The variables are a powerful strength when managed well and a debilitating weakness when managed poorly.

What makes the difference? The conversational capacity of the board – the ability to have constructive, purpose-driven, learning-focused dialogue about difficult subjects, in challenging circumstances, and with people who see the world very differently.

When its conversational capacity is high, a board can address it’s most contentious and troublesome issues in a constructive manner. When its conversational capacity is low, even a minor difference of opinion can throw the board off balance.

The Workshop

This workshop will help board members develop skills for fostering responsibly rigorous teamwork characterized by less strife and more collaboration; less rigidity and more dexterity; less defensiveness and more learning; less frustration and more fun. Eminently pragmatic, the workshop offers actionable frameworks, application questions, and helpful “tool kits” that help board members bring greater awareness and discipline to their important interactions and activities.

Drawing on respected research in leadership studies, business management, psychology, and neuroscience, the Conversational Capacity Workshop for Boards of Directors shows participants how to reach far healthier and more adaptive levels of teamwork. Highly practical, the ideas have been tested and refined in a host of tough organizational settings. They work.

Workshop Takeaways

  • A “Conversational Code of Conduct”™ (CCOC) that establishes clear norms and skills for not just WHAT the board is working together to achieve, but HOW they’ll work together to achieve it.
  • A clearer and more shared sense of mission and purpose.
  • A greater ability to engage in balanced, vigorous, learning-focused conversations under pressure.
  • More effective board meetings
  • A well-defined decision-making process and more rigorous risk management.
  • The ability to provide clear and useful guidance and more vigilant oversight.
  • The ability to transform team differences (cultural, experiential, educational, gender, hierarchal, personality, functional, etc.) from a source of conflict and weakness into a source of learning and strength.
  • An operating culture that cultivates high levels of respect, trust, and confidence.
  • A firm and well-deserved reputation as a strong, high-functioning board, and a more meaningful and engaging experience for board members.

Suggested Readings

Want to Learn More?

To learn more, or to schedule a workshop for your organization, send us an email.