recent report in Strategy + Business suggests board evolution occurs through four stages, and that organisations should aspire to develop a “mindful board” that considers issues through multiple lens and has greater capacity for self-reflection.

    The Mindful Board
    strategy + business, January 2016

    A recent report in Strategy + Business suggests board evolution occurs through four stages, and that organisations should aspire to develop a “mindful board” that considers issues through multiple lens and has greater capacity for self-reflection.

    The authors, Charlotte Roberts and Martha Summerville, both executive consultants in the United States, argue that the concept of a mindful board is emerging as corporate social responsibility and responsible investing become a bigger boardroom discussion.

    They say the mindful board is the last of the four governance stages in a board’s evolution.

    The consent board

    The first is the “consent board”, or traditional model of governance where directors focus on fiduciary oversight and supporting the CEO’s agenda. Board engagement and questioning at this stage is minimal.

    The working board

    The second stage is the “working board”. The board now has a greater understanding of operations and performance, and there is typically a committee structure and partnerships with executives. But the CEO and chairman continue to drive most of the board’s’ agenda.

    The strategic board

    The third stage is the “strategic board”. The board takes a longer-term, broader view of the organisation and its industry and may turn to external advice. But when faced with a profound challenge or change, the strategic board may fail to identify risks and opportunities because it is constrained by a focus on one industry or sector.

    The mindful board

    The fourth stage, the mindful board, draws on experiences across different fields to govern in complex systems.

    The authors wrote: “Mindfulness in the boardroom refers to the capacity of a group of people to think in a deep way together. In assessing a current challenge, the mindful board looks to the past, present and future. Deliberations encompass the impact of a decision not only on the enterprise, but on industry, society and the planet. And the board considers how the decision will play out in both the short term and the very long term.”

    They say the mindful board considers the world through multiple windows, such as technology, politics, sociology and the environment. The board creates conditions for all directors to participate in discussion; has an expanded consciousness; and fearless engagement, where directors exercise their ability to see an issue through a different lens.

    Few Australian organisations could claim to have a mindful board. More boards have moved to stage three under the author’s model and are playing a greater role in shaping and governing organisation strategy.

    The challenge is to go the next step and have sufficient diversity of thought – across skills, experience, culture, gender and age – so that boards can consider complex issues from multiple angles. And develop a level of mindfulness that drives corporate performance.

    Deputy Executive Director of the Governance Leadership Centre, Louise Pocock, recently spoke to Gillian Coutts, Robyne Blood and Sue O'Dea, Leadership Advisors and Mindfulness Specialists with Positive Org and Potential Project, about some practical changes that they believes directors can make to help develop a mindful board. They commented:

    “With mindfulness as one of the buzzwords of the past few years, the idea of a mindful board was bound to arise. The Strategy + Business report describes a mindful board as the pinnacle of board performance, but it leaves room for further exploration around the value of mindfulness practice for directors and boards.

    Our work with executives around the world shows that organisations are crying out for more mindful governance. As executives step up their capacity to lead in complexity, they need to be matched by more effective, agile and contemplative boards.

    With mounting pressures and demands around board performance so comes an obligation for directors to reach beyond fiduciary duties and technicalities to mastering the explicit and implicit ways of working that can limit group leadership and efficacy. We can all be blind to the impact of our assumptions and biases – conscious and unconscious – and may lack the capacity to sit with the discomfort that is often at the heart of the fearless engagement that is needed to crack the wicked problems boards often face.

    Many directors we know are deliberately using mindfulness training, for 10 minutes a day, to help them meet these challenges. They report greater calmness, focus, clarity, awareness and less defensiveness. They find they are also better able to attend broadly to multiple and, sometimes, contradictory information (and distractions), without falling prey to unconscious biases or unhelpful anxiety. They describe the development of the ability to not only think more clearly, but with their enhanced observational capacity, they are even able to observe their own default thinking patterns, which is important to build cognitive flexibility. These types of changes have been well documented in multiple studies on mindfulness. We believe a simple 10 minute daily mindfulness practice combined with the ideas described in the Strategy + Business article will help to support the evolution of more mindful boards.”

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