How to Ensure a Healthy and Constructive Board Culture Part 2: Unraveling Destructive Board Coping Strategies and Dysfunction


How to ensure a healthy and constructive board culture part 2

In Part 1 of this article we set out the complexities of board culture, why so many board cultures are somewhat dysfunctional  as a prelude to this Part 2. Now we venture deeper into the heart of board culture, we uncover mechanisms such as control, avoidance, denial, and hubris. They are the invisible threads weaving through the fabric of boardroom dynamics, binding actions and reactions, often leading to bewildering relationship breakdowns and organisational chaos.

In Part 2 of our board culture exploration, we delve into the nuances of control, where the genuine desire for stability metamorphoses into stifling micromanagement, snuffing out the sparks of creativity and collaboration.

By acknowledging these coping strategies, we lay the foundation for a profound conversation about the intricacies of board culture. The goal? Empowering boards to dismantle the shadows and usher in an era of resilience, adaptability, and unwavering success for their organisations.


Control as a coping strategy

The coping strategy of control often emerges as a veiled attempt to shield the board from the uncomfortable truth: the erosion of integrity and ethical conduct within the organisation. Control, in this context, operates as a defensive mechanism, obscuring the reality that the core values of honesty, transparency, and fairness have decayed.

Recognising the signs of controlling behaviours is essential to understanding how this coping strategy manifests in the boardroom. Warning signals abound, offering glimpses into the subtle erosion of ethical foundations:

  • Dismissal of Opinions: Control often manifests when opinions, especially those challenging the status quo, are summarily dismissed by individuals wielding greater power and influence. Dissenting voices, crucial for diverse perspectives, are stifled, robbing the board of vital insights.
  • Silencing Dissent: Controlling boards tend to silence differing views or dissent, creating an atmosphere of conformity where genuine debate and discussion become casualties. This stifling of diverse perspectives not only hampers innovation but also contributes to a culture of fear and silence.
  • Overbearing Directors: The presence of bossy or dominating directors is a clear indication of control at play. When a few individuals overshadow the collective wisdom of the board, it hampers collaboration and stifles the growth of a healthy board culture.
  • Devaluation of Concerns: Directors and executives who can raise ethical concerns may be devalued or minimised. This devaluation discourages openness, breeding a culture of secrecy and evasion.
  • Factionalism and Exclusion: Control often leads to forming factions or ‘in groups’ that exclude minority board members or executives. This divisive ‘us versus them’ mentality fractures the board’s unity, creating an environment ripe for manipulation and power struggles.
  • Cronyism and Similarity Attachments: The persistence of cronyism, colloquially known as the ‘boys club,’ reflects an unhealthy attachment to similarity. When decisions are influenced by personal connections rather than merit, it results in rigidity in thinking and a lack of diversity in perspectives.


Understanding these warning signs is pivotal in dismantling the control coping strategy. It requires a collective acknowledgment of these behaviours and a commitment to fostering a culture of openness, respect, and inclusivity. By confronting control head-on, boards can pave the way for a more ethical, transparent, and integrity-driven organisational culture, ensuring that the decay of fundamental values is halted and a renewed commitment to ethical conduct prevails.


Avoidant behaviour eroding board integrity

Avoidant behaviour often manifests as a silent underminer of productive dialogue and effective governance. This coping strategy finds expression in various forms, all contributing to the erosion of transparency, accountability, and organisational health.

This behaviour often derails discussions deemed uncomfortable or confrontational. When faced with challenging topics, some board members might deflect the conversation, steering it away from the core issue in an attempt to maintain harmony.

Avoidant individuals may engage in side conversations outside the boardroom, discussing pertinent matters away from the prying eyes and ears of the entire board. This secretive dialogue fragments the decision-making process, hindering the formation of well-informed, collective resolutions. A common manifestation of avoidance is the withholding of opinions or vital information, either from the CEO, executives, or the board. This selective disclosure clouds decision-making, creating an incomplete and potentially misguided view of the organisation’s affairs.

These behaviours often surface during challenging conversations that point to neglect, failures in oversight, or deficiencies in a director’s capabilities. Ageism can exacerbate the issue, as older directors may resist contemporary ideas, dismissing them without considering the merit of alternative viewpoints.

Understanding and addressing avoidant behaviour requires a commitment to open dialogue, active listening, and a culture of respect that values diverse perspectives. By confronting these tendencies head-on, boards can foster an environment where difficult conversations are embraced, innovative solutions are explored, and the collective intelligence of the board is harnessed to navigate the complexities of the modern business landscape.


Denial and hubris veiling the truth in the boardroom

Denial and hubris are coping strategies driven by fear, arrogance, and self-preservation that come to the forefront when directors seek to divert attention from wrongdoing or deficiencies within the board or the organisation.

Denial and hubris find expression in the act of scapegoating or blaming others. Directors, unwilling to confront their own shortcomings, might deflect blame onto subordinates, external factors, or even previous administrations. By shifting responsibility, they attempt to evade accountability for the organisation’s missteps.

Collusion is another tactic employed to maintain the illusion of perfection. Directors might conspire with others, whether within the board or external entities, to create a unified front that shields them from scrutiny. This unity, while superficial, serves as a shield against accountability, allowing denial and hubris to persist unchallenged.

Denial often takes the form of willful ignorance, where directors ignore unhealthy or wrongful conduct within the organisation. By ignoring uncomfortable truths, they maintain the facade of a harmonious, well-functioning board, even if the reality is far from it.

Recognising and combating these behaviours requires a collective commitment to truth, transparency, and humility. It demands a willingness to confront uncomfortable realities, acknowledge mistakes, and learn from them. Boards must foster a culture where accountability is valued, dissent is encouraged, and the pursuit of continuous improvement is paramount.


The journey toward a healthy board culture is a steadfast commitment to change

The labyrinth of board behaviours mentioned above are often subtle but are the red flags indicating the presence of coping strategies, hindering open dialogue and inhibiting the board’s ability to fulfil its fundamental responsibilities.

Yet, amidst these challenges, there lies hope and opportunity. By acknowledging the existence of these coping mechanisms, boards can reclaim their authenticity. The power to dismantle these destructive patterns rests with directors and executives. It requires the courage to confront uncomfortable truths, the wisdom to embrace diverse perspectives, and the humility to acknowledge fallibility.

A healthy board culture is not a destination but a continuous journey. It demands active listening, respectful dissent, and a genuine appreciation for the complexity of the issues. It thrives on transparency, ethical conduct, and the unwavering pursuit of excellence. Boards must actively foster an environment where every voice is heard, where differences are celebrated, and where mistakes are seen as opportunities for growth.



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