Resolving Board Disputes: It’s All About Acceptance

With corporate boards, as with all things in life, the best way to resolve disputes is to nip them in the bud.  Of course, that’s usually easier said than done!

The best way to resolve disputes quickly and effectively is to foster a board culture and practice where people can raise issues without embarrassment or incrimination – a board that’s open to discussing ideas and issues, debating them without rancor, and listening with an open mind to different perspectives.

At the most basic level, if one director asks a question that challenges another, the question should be asked in a respectful way that doesn’t put the director on the receiving end on the defensive. Questions need to be asked in a way that will elicit a candid, constructive response, avoiding embarrassment to other directors.

Once an issue has been raised, it is critical that directors feel they have been heard and understood by the remaining board members.

Let’s face it, people are far more likely to accept decisions that don’t go their way if they feel that at least their position has been heard and considered and that they have not been marginalized.

One way to bring board members together is identify which directors are on each side of a position, and encourage them to then argue in favor of the other side’s position.   This way everybody starts to see the strengths and weaknesses of their own position.

Another way to help surface issues early is through not-for-attribution interviews conducted by a qualified third-party facilitator.  The insight you gain from those interviews can help bring important issues to light so they can be discussed early – and without anybody having to take ownership of them.  That’s particularly true with sensitive issues that no one wants to touch.

Surfacing issues early and often can help prevent small issues from festering into large ones – and minor concerns from becoming major problems.

There is a formula that says the effectiveness of a decision is the quality of the decision times it’s acceptance. So, a decision that is a 10 in terms of quality is great, but if it’s only accepted by two people – the degree of effectiveness is only 20 percent.  On the other hand, a decision that has a quality of 8, but is accepted by a 10, has an 80 percent degree of effectiveness.

In the end, it’s all about acceptance.