Every corporate board develops its own unique chemistry based on such factors as membership, leadership, company history, and power blocs. But is your boardroom' s chemistry the best it can be -- and do you have a good, objective blueprint of how your board actually functions?

Kenneth Rabinowitz and Leonard Simon head up a new service called the Board Effectiveness Institute, and they specialize analyze this " boardroom style" that combines director education and evaluation. Though BEI' s board overview is a proprietary service, Simon shares some of the key points:

  • First, each member of the board fills out a " style" form on himself/herself and the other members of the board. " This defines each person' s individual style and patterns -- who are the innovators, who are the risk takers, who tend to sit back in discussions." Although these rankings are subjective, having each member of the board reviewed by all the other members creates a reasonable picture of that director' s style and how it fits in with the rest of the board.
  • Compile the results and judge how they should be presented. " You have to be flexible, talking either to the whole board, to small groups at a time, or individual directors." The board member who rubs everyone the wrong way likely will not appreciate being told so in public.
  • Realize that there are not necessarily " good" or " bad" boardroom styles. That aggressive director may need to lay back a bit, but she also generates a lot of good ideas; that laid-back director may appear " disinterested -- the other directors can be upset because he doesn' t contribute more."
    The emphasis is less on forcing people to change than on giving them an objective look at their boardroom style and how it works among peers. This self-realization proves surprisingly effective, says Simon. " In one instance the form revealed that a particular director was very aggressive. This person confessed that he was not aware of this, but said that he realized he needed to change." Now Mr. Alpha " listens more and builds more on what others say."
  • A board style audit can help you get a handle on boardroom procedures that also need improving. " At a tactical level, directors often say that they need increased time for board discussion, and more training." This means that just finding out everyone' s style isn' t enough -- strive for improvement.
  • If you' d like to try such a boardroom approach yourself, build in a few caveats. First " the whole process takes time -- half to three-quarters of a day to get started" with filling in evaluations, and probably " three days total" to include a review of results and discussion of change. This makes such a style audit the ideal subject for a board retreat. Also, given the touchy nature of the comments, " you need a neutral third party to compile results and lead the process."

Copyright © 2000 Ralph Ward's Boardroom Insider