I’ve been thinking a lot about finding the balance between being agile and overburdened with bureaucracy and process. Alongside this is the role of boards and the positive and negative impacts I see boards having on organisations.

When does governance become stifling and a blocker to high performance and leadership effectiveness and when is it required?

So many of the exec teams I work with appear to dedicate a large chunk of their time to preparing and reviewing lengthy board papers. The operating rhythm of their business/function is centred on when the board meets and what the board wants from them. They often seem to be in catch-up mode and it’s as if they are often in service to the board more so than in service of their customer.

In response to my question about board meeting preparation recently, one senior leader texted: It’s insane…too much paperwork and not enough value being driven.

Interestingly, one highly experienced board chair I spoke with recently stated “If you believe you are delivering a paper just because the board has asked for it, then you’ve missed the point”. This follows the thinking that what is presented to the board is simply an extension of the work an executive should be doing in order to run their business.

It’s about balance I hear you shout!

On the flip side, one of the conversations that emerged as part of an exec team offsite earlier this year, was that in a bid to be fast, agile, and flexible, the team had landed in a place where the thinking behind a proposed course of action had not always been adequately done.  In an effort to remove bureaucracy, preparation of papers was replaced with conversations and short emails. While this promoted a culture of agility and innovation, there was a potential downside.

The downside? Not all leaders are skilled at setting out and fully explaining their ideas and the risks haven’t always been fully articulated. The rationale behind some decisions isn’t always clear, and those reviewing these decisions in the future may find it difficult to explain the rationale.

The leaders I work with who are getting the balance right are those who work closely with the board or governing body and gain agreement around ways of working that work!

Some of the approaches that make a difference are:

  • Clear conversations about what the board or governing body actually wants to review, the level of detail they require, and the implications for the business on delivering that detail.
  • Board papers – have a page limit and are designed to answer key questions.
  • Leaders are upskilled in writing clear and concise papersthat help their thinking on a matter rather than serving a reporting only function.
  • Exec teams prepare short, concise papers for key decisions requiring support so that their peers are able to review and reflect before lending their support.
  • Exec teams meet to discuss issues around implementing their strategy and leading the business, with board papers emerging from these conversations shared via email.

Perhaps it’s time to get ‘on the balcony’ and review how your team or business is functioning.

Does your operating rhythm support delivery of the strategy? Are your people skilled in presenting their ideas for consideration? Are the risks of decisions explored and clearly documented?

Have you got the balance right for your size and scope of business?

What I’m…

Reading: Emotional Agility by Susan David and Mindset by Carol Dweck. As part of creating modules formy Inflection Navigator program for leadership teams. Neither of them are new, both republished with updates and supporting a lot of my thinking about my take on the needs of leaders when navigating those really big inflection points in business, you know the ones that make you feel a bit wobbly and wonder if you’re doing the right thing and even if you are, how you navigate it and keep yourself whole.

Nick Cave’s Red Hand Files. I laugh, I cry, I reflect. It’s Not for everyone but I love dipping in and out of them!

Listening to: Webinar with Lisa O’Neill: The 4 Key Pillars of Energy and Being Your Best Self.My webinar was a closed session but check her out here or on LinkedIn. She’s funny, irreverent, insightful and doing live shows in Australia in June/July.

Looking for: A swimming coach – to go with my tennis coach and my business coach. Can you ever have too much coaching?? Got a recommendation for me?