Understanding Team Dynamics of a Board

Solange Charas, PhD., President of Charas Consulting, joined the second day of the SAWA conference sessions to share information about how attendees can better understand teams and when it is necessary to refresh their organization’s board. Dr. Charas’ advisory work focuses on assisting organizations to optimize their investments in HR programs, and her research has been published in both academic journals and business magazines.

Dr. Charas emphasized that once we understand and measure the dynamic of teams, we can address gaps and weaknesses in them.

Her two objectives were to:

  • Define what a team is
  • Relate how teams impact corporate outcomes

What do boards do, and what should they do?

A board isn’t just one thing. Boards must have priorities for how they manage and interact, which is why boards create charters; they’re the blueprints for what the board is going to focus on and how they will prioritize decision-making. A charter is a document to describe and communicate why the board exists.

Boards can be effective if they know what they should be doing.

How to manage skills on your board

According to Dr. Charas, board composition should be aligned with your company’s mission. If it’s not, it is probably time for a refresh.

Determining skills, competencies and behaviors needed to achieve your organization’s mission and strategy is an ongoing challenge. Missions don’t often change, but the strategies to achieve the mission often do. This is why it is imperative to continually assess the professional capital of the board members.

When evaluating a board, the obtaining of data and understanding that data is relatively easy. Deciding what to do about it and discussing governance issues honestly and effectively is more challenging.

How to identify when it’s time for a refresh

When boards aren’t doing a good job of addressing the needs of your organization, or if they do not understand when it’s time to bring on someone new, Dr. Charas said it might be the perfect time for a refresh.

If your organization’s strategy changes, reevaluate the skill set on the board to make sure its composition is aligned with the updated plan. Dr. Charas advises organizations to constantly be thinking about what resources are on the board (or not) that will help (or not help) achieve its mission.

Time for action

If it’s time for a refresh, consider these steps:

  • Revisit the organization’s short and long-term strategy and identify the needed board professional capital.
  • Create a skills and competency inventory of all board members and identify gaps between the needs and current state of the board and organization.
  • Assess the board as a team.
  • Address individual and team weaknesses and use the assessment to inform recruiting decisions, skills, competencies, networks or behaviors.
  • Put a woman on your team – with a woman present, the team becomes collectively more intelligent because women have higher social sensitivity. Women scored much higher on facial expression recognition than men, helping them better understand what people are feeling. They are more apt to address it, especially in a team environment, and especially at high levels of engagement.

Tactics to improve the board and strengthen weaknesses

  1. Use objective analysis in difficult decisions – they’re not personal, just business.
  2. Try to identify a new role for someone if they’re not as valuable as they should or could be in their current position.
  3. Implement board term limits, which make it easier to rotate out a weak member.

What executive directors can do to help manage up their board

  1. Have a clear understanding and vision of what the board’s role is
  2. If the board gets refreshed on what their mission is, there is a direct path between the board and its director
    • If the board sees itself as strategic, then the director’s role is to implement strategy
    • If the board is advisory, then the director is responsible for coming up with strategy and tactics

Boards should

  • Discuss governance issues such as roles, accountability, charter, term limits and relationship with TMT
  • Frequently evaluate their performance at the team and individual level

Dr. Charas advised that board meetings exist to get work done, but also to self-evaluate. Are we providing highest governance ability that we can? Are we producing the results that we want to? Whose standard are we using to measure these things – board, stakeholder, professional baseline?

To be successful, Dr. Charas reminded attendees that the only real outcome for a board is cognitive – it’s strategy. Directors may need to remind boards why they exist in order to reap the benefits.


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.

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