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Monthly Reflections Blog: What Boards can learn from nature

Monthly Reflections Blog: What Boards can learn from nature

Nature provides us with huge amounts of data, but if we’re not looking out for it or we are not receptive to it, it doesn’t help us to make informed choices.For example, you’re on walk, it’s a cloudy day and you are not sure which direction to go? There are clues all around you. The roots of a tree are generally more pronounced on the south westerly aspect because that's where the wind comes from. The leaves on the southerly side of the tree are bigger and paler than those on the northerly side. Nettles mean you are close to habitation. And so it goes on.

And so Boards also contain a huge amount of data about themselves. Sometimes when we report back via a Board Effectiveness Review, the response from Board members to some of the content is “we knew that”. And to some extent that is valid and true, but as with any group, “knowing” something is not the same as doing something about it.

It is difficult not to think of FIFA in this regard. Sepp Blatter resigned recently from his position of President amid the emergence of evidence indicating bribes were taken from the South African Football Association. Blatter announced his resignation stating that “his mandate does not appear to be supported by everybody”. He continued: “we need a limitation on mandates and terms of office. I have fought for these changes but my efforts have been counteracted”.

The irony of these statements is clear. It was well “known” by many people that there were governance issues within FIFA, but this was not sufficient to bring about any change, however desired it might have been by many people. Ultimately people and pressure from outside of the organisation were the “disrupters” who made maintaining the status quo impossible.

So why is it that it requires someone or processes from outside the system to bring things into the light, even though some of them may be already known or at least sensed (but not articulated) by the people inside the system?

As human beings, a part of our brains causes us to identify with the groups that we are part of. Eventually that reaching out process means that we start to “belong” and see the world how the rest of the group sees it. Retaining an independent perspective over time is difficult, and even if some manage this, they often get overwhelmed by the group think that surrounds them, or they leave because they feel at odds with what is going on around them. That is why it is so useful to ask newcomers to a group what they see, because they are not tainted by that historical perspective.

So yes, Board Effectiveness Reviews do, to some extent at least, tell you what you know already, but that doesn’t devalue them. Actually the reverse is true.

For more information, please contact Judith Nicol, Director of Leadership Services.

Posted by Judith Nicol on


Judith Nicol

Judith Nicol

Director, Leadership Services

Judith joined Warren Partners recently and heads up the leadership coaching practice, which works exclusively with boards, board directors and senior leaders.

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