The many different personalities around the board table can have positive and negative effects on the board’s effectiveness.

    Andrew Donovan, a practising company director and adviser to NFP boards identifies two — the enthusiast and the critic — and shares his tips for getting the best results for everyone.

    "The enthusiast is driven by their passion for their topic. They have a lot of energy and are highly motivated to the cause. But they’re not always strategic in terms of how they participate in the meeting," says Donovan.

    "The critic usually has a problem with the CEO, management, the chair, other directors, the direction of the organisation or all of the above. That’s quite unproductive in a board meeting because they’re doing what the enthusiast does — running their own agenda — but in a negative way," he says.

    Donovan shares his tips for managing these personalities:

    1. Ensure there’s adequate time, usually at the start of the meeting, where directors can hold an informal meeting. It’s standard practice in the corporate world, and increasingly in the NFP sector, to have in camera sessions for directors only. People can get things off their chest and get a game plan about how the meeting’s going to run. They don’t discuss any issues or make any decisions because you need your management team for that.
    2. Linking board meetings into the board plan helps to provide a strategic focus for discussions and that can help to prevent them being hijacked by critics and enthusiasts.
    3. Training is one way to help an enthusiast understand their role as a director.
    4. Provide an outlet for the enthusiast outside the boardroom. There may be an activity in the organisation that allows them to follow their passion.
    5. You can give the critic an opportunity to be productive by giving them a role such as chair of a committee or a particular portfolio. While it’s risky, it brings them ‘inside the tent’. If they can’t be productive they need to be moved on.

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