Successful, experienced professionals do not work together superbly simply by virtue of dealing with common challenges or spending large chunks of time in the same room. Boards of directors and executive teams are no exception. Efficient ongoing investment is required to improve teamwork.
One simple “secret” of high functioning teams is to spend a few hours once a year or so developing and/or updating a set of Ground Rules.
Ground Rules are working agreements – they set forth “How we work together.” For example, “No fish on the table” is a ground rule that for one exec team I coach means “No complaining or whining without a solution.” Another client that had trouble with candor now has an “All fish on the table” ground rule, which for them means “we need to make sure we put the truth out there, even if it’s ugly or smelly.” Both have benefited greatly using these guidelines.
Boards of directors and executive teams that develop such working agreements appreciate having clear rules of the road. Heavy traffic of tasks, issues, and decisions flows better when the guardrails are delineated. The group’s level of functionality – or dysfunction – is not only helpful to observe and address, but it’s also quite important to others in the organization, as they try and get the group to make smart and timely decisions. Finally, as members of the team change over time, having ground rules helps new members integrate more quickly and effectively.
I’ve found that an offsite meeting is a great place to establish ground rules. Recently I worked with a team that had great trust issues due to changes among the team’s roster, and I was incredibly gratified to notice that once they saw how effectively they could work together with ground rules, I knew it would become ingrained in their daily behavior. Developing them is as simple as doing some form of assessment to look for strengths and weaknesses in how they work together – then a discussion of those findings, and a facilitated conversation about ground rules that can best leverages their strengths, and addresses their development areas – as a group.
It’s also important to hold each other accountable to the ground rules once they’re established. In fact, recently I used this mechanism as its own ground rule among a board: “We will all keep hard copies of these agreements at each board meeting. We will assign each quarter a board member to monitor them and to keep us on track, calling out in real time when we are off track, if no one else calls it out, until it’s habit for all of us.”
Finally, keep them current by revising them from time to time. Healthy working groups are ever dynamic and evolving, and your ground rules should reflect that. So as the team’s capabilities grow and evolve, good ground rules mature right along with it.
It’s as important for boards and teams to spend time addressing HOW they work together as is the actual work they do. Barring such deliberate effort, decisions will be less considered, time will be wasted needlessly, and people will be frustrated. Good ground rules don’t need to be a secret, but something any group of people who need to work well together can establish.David Peck
Principal and Senior Executive Coach
Goodstone Group, LLC