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The Secret Life of Boards

The Art and Psychology of  Board Dynamics


  • Negotiating the standoff – finding a way ahead when your board is divided and has reached an impasse 

  • Banishing bullying – handling domineering or coercive behaviour

  • Activating the passive rubber stamp board – enabling it to assert its authority

  • Descending the ivory tower – becoming more in touch with your markets, your organisation, and its stakeholders

  • Harnessing diversity – making better decisions by drawing on a broad range of perspectives

  • Facing up to a doomsday scenario – pulling together when your board encounters a crisis that threatens its existence

The relationships within boards can make or break an organisation, but well-functioning relationships take skill and effort to maintain. Helen and Joy interviewed forty experienced board members from the worlds of corporates, the public sector and charities on how to spot and manage complex boardroom dynamics and researched the psychological roots of these difficulties. 


In their book, The Art and Psychology of Board Relationships: The Secret Life of Boards, Helen and Joy describe seven difficult dynamics - how to spot them, what's happening beneath the surface psychologically, and what board members and their advisors can do to navigate them. 

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The book offers a simple model for resolving tricky dynamics - the ART of boardroom relationship dynamics:


Awareness: when you’re stuck in a difficult situation, it can be tempting to place the blame, and the responsibility for resolving it, onto others. But if they’re uninterested in changing, things will stay the same – unless you alter something. So they present ways to build awareness of your own role in the situation. The book offers ways of recognising when you might be inadvertently contributing to an issue, or passively enabling it, and suggests ways of generating options for moving towards a resolution. 


Relating: once you’re armed with awareness and options, you’re ready to make conscious choices about how you relate to others. The book shares advice on improving your approach to relationships and altering your habits of interacting with board colleagues and other stakeholders, to create healthier dynamics. 


Tactics: it’s helpful to build a toolkit of tactics from which you can select and deploy techniques to manage and resolve difficult dynamics. The authors pass on tried and tested tactics – for shifting the dynamic on your board – which have proved useful to their board interviewees and those who advise them.

Helen has been invited to share her research and reflections on board dynamics at several business schools, town halls and podcasts recently; here are a couple of links if you'd like to hear more:

The Operations Room - A podcast for COOs

The Ideas Foundry from Linklaters

If you'd like a conversation about board development work get in touch: 

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