A great article from the New York Times on what Google found to be the key ingredients for making team productive in their business shows that the key factor for a productive team is establishing a space in which each of the members of the team feels comfortable taking risks.
This insight might seem banal, but how many times have you been in a meeting where one person dominates the airtime, or you didn't put forward a suggestion that you thought would be helpful because you thought the other members of the team might belittle your suggestion? We've all been there. And the output of the team is the worse off for it because not only are those foregone suggestions often very valuable, a team that feels that it can take risks is a team that can accomplish some really great things.
At first blush, it might seem counter-intuitive that a board would want to establish norms that encourage risk taking. After all, one of the key functions of a board of directors is to be a responsible steward of the company's assets on behalf of shareholders and others. But the risk taking that the article describes is not about putting the company at risk, but a board member taking the risk of voicing what might be an unpopular opinion.
For example, if a board member thinks that the upcoming audit should take a closer look at revenue recognition policies, or that a report to donors should come up with a more accurate metric to show effectiveness, it can be hard to be the first person to speak up about these things. If you have established norms for your board such that members feel comfortable voicing these opinions, regardless of whether they are adopted, you are much more likely to focus on the right issues and actually reduce company risk.
And, it can be even more challenging than it is for a typical group within a company to establish these kinds of productive norms given that your board meets only infrequently and there may be different goals among the different members. It is all the more important for the CEO or the Executive Director to put in an effort to establish the right norms for his or her board to follow. This takes time, but can result in much more productive meetings.
At iBoardrooms, we can't do the work of establishing these norms for you, but we can automate away a lot of the other tasks involved in keeping a board running smoothly. Whichever board portal you choose, be sure to leverage it in order focus on the key drivers of board success that only you can do, like setting the right risk taking norms for your board.