Creating Board Culture: Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch

board development and revitalization impact intentional practices Jan 16, 2024
Creating Board Culture: Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch


Much has been written about corporate culture, much less about board culture. How do you develop a culture of commitment, engagement, and inquiry? Here are a few research-based suggestions that are easy to implement.


Board behaviour affects these elements and more:


  • that critical, creative, constructive Board-CEO partnership, so essential to our success; and, of course, modelling for the senior staff;
  • those meetings that focus less on thoughtful deliberation than “beating the clock” and going home as early as possible;
  • those same meetings that intimidate and freeze inclusive contributions;
  • encouraging and supporting risk while ensuring a culture of assessment and accountability;
  • catching potential problems early before they derail your operations.


Both Daniel Pink (Drive) and Jim Collins (Good to Great) provide some basic practices for you to consider, especially if you are the Board chair.


Focus on asking the questions rather than proposing the answers too early. Too many Chairs and Executive Directors have the answers, the questions are considered irrelevant. No. Focus on questions. This enables you to explore options and opportunities. Never consider yourself a “rubber stamp,” or you are no better than a bump on a log.

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  Encourage dialogue and, yes, debate. Exceptional Chairs occasionally set up two sides of an issue and have board members open the discussion by taking different sides for two or three minutes each. Indeed, any proposal should include not only its advantages but also the possible disadvantages. You want insights, not one right answer. There will always be conflict – the question is whether the Chair is sufficiently capable to manage it and perhaps resolve it.


Insist on a culture of assessment. Perhaps too nuanced for some, but assessment suggests a review of what worked and what didn’t work without judgment, blame or coercion. Evaluation suggests a more black-and-white review. You can’t encourage risk-taking and then assign blame. Celebrate the chances taken, but note the lessons learned. Trust but verify.


Build red flag mechanisms that turn information into information that cannot be ignored. This is especially true for not-for-profit boards and financial management. Learn what to watch for, when to raise questions and even alarms. Catch the issues early, as an early warning for potentially deeper problems.


Do you have a Board culture of inquiry and assessment? How did you develop it? What are your intentional practices?


We would enjoy hearing from you!


What are your main “pain points” dealing with Board culture?

What advice would be most helpful to you?
And we always assume that you are asking for a friend!

Get in touch. We’ll address your questions and concerns in an upcoming blog post.




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P.S. May I ask a tiny favour? Would you mind sharing this blog with one person? I would love it. You can post the links in your Facebook Groups, LinkedIn or even send an email.

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