iProtean—Board Culture

You may have heard this: “culture eats strategy for lunch.”  It’s a popular phrase in business, and popular on Internet business and video sites as well.  But culture remains difficult to define, especially when applied to groups or teams within an organization.  We can say, loosely, that culture is “the way we do things around here.”  Its components are easier to identify: the formal rules and rituals of an organization, the values the organization espouses, and how those values are lived out in process. (Edgar Schein)


The iProtean course Board Culture describes the context within which culture plays a role in board performance.  Barry Bader (Bader & Associates), Anne McGeorge (Grant Thornton) and Lawrence Prybil, Ph.D. (University of Kentucky) connect board culture with high performance.  They discuss the types of board culture, engagement and constructive questioning, how to deal with disruptive board members and improving board culture.


Barry Bader, Bader & Associates

The distinction between a good board and a great board essentially boils down to board culture . . . What are the things that would make for a positive board culture?  Typically you hear people talk about a culture of accountability, a culture of engagement, a culture of candor, a culture of continuous learning, and a culture of collaboration and partnership between the board and management.


Anne McGeorge, Grant Thornton

For any type of team, whether it is a management team, a family team, or any type of group that needs to have consensus on particular issues, it will be important to ensure that the culture of that particular team is consistent with making effective and good judgment decisions.  A board is no different.  The culture of the board is important to ensure you have enough trust among the board members so decisions can be made—with appropriate challenges and appropriate disagreements.


Barry Bader, Bader & Associates

How do you develop a culture of engagement where board members are not afraid to ask a hard, challenging question—where board members are willing to be candid and ask management to be fully candid?  “Edgy questions aren’t disloyal, they reflect the ultimate loyalty—that commitment to the mission and mutual trust are so strong that leaders can challenge themselves and never accept the status quo as the only alternative.” (Barry S. Bader, “Asking the Edgy Questions About the Future,” Great Boards, Winter 2011)


Lawrence Prybil, Ph.D., University of Kentucky

As we think about the culture of the board, we ask ourselves, what are the dimensions of board culture?  There are several of them.  Among those is, to what extent is the board committed to engagement, dialogue and discourse, and to respectful dissent and disagreement versus being more passive?  Boards distribute themselves all across a continuum in that realm, from being very engaged, very open to dialogue, very encouraging of discourse, very welcoming of respectful disagreements and debate, to those where the prevailing practice is to be polite, passive and to not challenge each other, to not challenge management, to not challenge the status quo or ideas.


Barry Bader, Bader & Associates

There are times that are defining moments for a board.  There is a particular decision, even the decision to make a decision, that a board makes that has a much more significant impact on the future, the fortunes, the mission, the success of the organization . . . I think the way that you handle defining moments is to put this culture into action on an ongoing basis for even the routine work of the board, at every meeting and at every board committee meeting:  engagement, candid disclosure of information, active discussion and constructive questioning.


No athletic team would get out on the field without practice.  Ask any baseball player if he can be on the field effectively and take his four or five “at bats” a day if he doesn’t take batting practice earlier in the day, and he will tell you, “No.”  It is no different for a board of directors, except that the practice field is the ongoing, seemingly routine work of board meetings and committee meetings.  That is the practice ground for effective governance performance at those defining moments.



For a complete list of iProtean courses, click here. www.iprotean.com/index.php/iprotean/onlineCourses/Available_courses


iProtean Symposium & Workshop

Mark the Date!! October 10 – 12, 2012 at The Lodge at Torrey Pines, La Jolla, CA. Faculty: Barry Bader, Dan Grauman, Marian Jennings and Brian Wong, M.D. For more information, click here. www.iprotean.com/index.php/conference/conferences


For more information about iProtean, click here. www.iprotean.com/index.php/iprotean/demo