Board decisions determine an organisation’s future and creating the conditions for successful board decision-making is a critical component of our roles as governance professionals. This aspect of our work, however, is one of the toughest assignments we face in our careers. Not only does it require an in-depth understanding of the strategic issues facing the organisations we serve, it also requires us to understand and navigate the personal dynamics involved in a group of human beings coming together to make decisions about complex issues within the relatively short timeframe of a board meeting.

This month, our journal suggests some of the practical ways in which we can upgrade our board support work. Some of the suggestions in the pages ahead will be very familiar to anyone working in governance. Clearly, boards will make better decisions if the information provided to them is comprehensive, accurate and distributed in a timely manner. Some of the suggestions, however, relate to issues in decision-making that are relatively under-discussed. The psychology of collaborative decision-making, for example, tends to get less attention than it deserves, but governance professionals need to consider this aspect of the topic as it is pivotal to creating the right environment in which board discussions can deliver the best results.

Our two cover stories this month provide a primer in this area of practice. A key takeaway from both articles is that better decisions tend to get made where directors adopt an open mindset when considering the viewpoints and suggestions raised at board meetings. Strong views strongly argued should be a very welcome part of board discussions. Directors need to constructively challenge the information provided to them by management and to ask the hard questions. They also need to be capable of giving a fair hearing to viewpoints other than their own. Fundamentally, we should bear in mind that a primary motive behind having a board in the first place is that collaborative decision-making has significant advantages over leaving all decisions to a single individual. This is not only due to the pooling of the knowledge, skills and experience of many different individuals, it also harnesses the creative power of brainstorming. In general, groups are better able to generate more creative solutions than individuals working alone.

Nevertheless, like any collaborative exercise, board decision-making comes with some inbuilt risks and we as governance professionals can play a significant role in mitigating those risks for the boards we work with. Again, there is a key takeaway in both of our cover stories this month on this question. Probably the single most effective defence against those risks is to broaden the diversity of the people sitting at the table. When individuals with different backgrounds, experiences, ages and genders come together to solve a problem, they bring a variety of perspectives to the issues under discussion. That, when matched with the open mindset I mentioned earlier, is the not-so-secret formula for really effective collaborative decision-making.

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