Research That Will Help You Make Your Board More Effective

Dr. Solange Charas is president of Charas Consulting and teaches courses in human resources and human capital at New York University. She came to the SAWA Annual Conference to share her research on what makes boards and management teams most effective.

Dr. Charas’ research is focused on how well teams at the board or executive level achieve their goals. Through extensive qualitative and quantitative research, Dr. Charas is able to assess board quality and show how a board compares to others of similar size. Over a thousand businesses and organizations have taken the assessment she’s developed, forming a benchmark for teams across private and public companies.

Defining how to measure teams

Dr. Charas’ research was inspired by her experience working as a management consultant. In the process of working with COOs and CFOs of large companies, she became adept at recognizing a high performing team when she saw one. However, she wanted to be able to quantify why some teams have better outcomes than others.

She knew there was a “problem of practice” in boards and management teams. Research has shown that perceptions of effectiveness are high for individuals, but low overall for teams. For example:

  • 90% of US directors/trustees rate their performance as very effective
  • Only 30% rate overall board performance at an equivalent level
  • Only 15% of directors/trustees believe the performance of their CEO/ED is “very effective”

Her research confirmed that behavioral characteristics have a strong relationship to governance quality. In other words, how well people behave and work together correlates directly to how well the team performs.

Productive versus unproductive conflict

Dr. Charas emphasized that there are two types of conflict that impact team productivity. One is helpful for resolving problems, and one is counterproductive.

The two types of conflict:

  • Cognitive conflict is based on ideas. This type of conflict is productive for teams because it’s needed for effective decision making. Teams come together, and solve the problem at hand.
  • Affective conflict fits into our usual definition of conflict – it’s based on personal disagreements. When this kind of conflict happens, people tend to disagree and, ultimately, shut down conversations when they get difficult. People disengage from real problem solving.

In her consulting work, Dr. Charas works with teams to help them identify which type of conflict is most common on that team. Through this process, she can diagnose the overall level of “TQ” or team intelligence. Her research confirmed that the overall team has a bigger impact on performance than individuals alone. This is why it’s so common for individuals to rate their own performances very favorably, but rate the overall team as less effective.

She has found that 75% of the time, there is a correlation between the quality of the top management team and the board. TQ is “contagious” between the two because the quality of an organization starts at the top. In order to best take advantage of this, Dr. Charas recommended having one team member who sits on both the board and the management team.

A real life example

Dr. Charas detailed her experience working with the Yavapai Humane Society to explain the process of evaluating team effectiveness. Her advice to anyone beginning the process of evaluating either a board’s or a team’s effectiveness is to take an assessment first.

Her 15-minute online assessment is designed to measure the effectiveness of the team, and determine if there are gaps between the desired characteristics of a team and what is really happening. It can also be used to determine a company’s direction for recruiting for a board or management team.

When the Yavapai Humane Society employees took the assessment, it identified the characteristics that the team valued most and how potential board candidates fit in with the rest of the team. The board was already a high-performing group, but was weaker in some areas of the assessment – mainly on the “power and influence” dimension, which determines how decisions are made by the team.

Once the team identified where they were the weakest, they were able to discuss the problems and receive coaching around how to improve the team’s process for making decisions. The results weren’t only seen in the assessment – the board worked more effectively together day-to-day. When re-assessed by Charity Navigator, the organization went from one star to four.

In summary, Dr. Charas encouraged everyone in leadership to evaluate the health of their board and management teams. Her research proves that behaviors in the boardroom and by top management have a measurable impact on an organization’s financial performance. Information sharing and engagement are the key behaviors that determine whether or not a team will be high-performing.

As leaders in animal welfare, we have an obligation to understanding whether our teams are effective, and if not, how to get them there. The ability to fundraise, and save more animals, relies on it.


This article was written live during the 2015 Annual Society of Animal Welfare Administrators Conference. This post reflects our bloggers’ understanding of the session and the materials shared by presenters.

The Association is the only international society of leaders actively leading and managing community animal shelters/animal control agencies.

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