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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Intelligence and Governance

Katy Steward of @TheKingsFund asks What Makes a Board Effective? (Feb 2013). She's looking specifically at the role of the Board in the National Health Service, but there is much that can be generalized to other contexts. She asks some key questions for any given board.


  • Are its members individually effective and do they communicate effectively – for example, do they challenge themselves and others?
  • Do they use energetic presentations and have insightful conversations?
  • Do they support their colleagues and have good decision-making skills?


In this post, I want to develop this line of thinking further by exploring what the concept of organizational intelligence implies for boards.


1. Boards need to know what is going on.

  • Multiple and diverse sources of information - both quantitative and qualitative
  • Understanding how information is filtered, and a willingness to view unfiltered information as necessary. 
  • Ability to identify areas of concern, and initiate detailed investigation 

2. Boards need to make sense of what is going on.

  • Ability to see things from different perspectives - patient quality, professional excellence, financial accountability, social accountability. 
  • Ability to see the detail as well as the big picture. 
  • Courage to investigate and explore any discrepancies, and not to be satisfied with easy denial.

3. Boards need to ensure that all decisions, policies and procedures are guided by both vision and reality. This includes decisions taken by the board itself, as well as decisions taken at all levels of management.

  • Decisions and actions are informed by values and priorities, and reinforce these values. (People both inside and outside the organization will infer your true values not from your words but from your actions.) 
  • Decisions and actions are guided by evidence wherever possible. Ongoing decisions and policies are open to revision according to the outcomes they yield.
  • Decision-making by consent (Robertson)

4. Boards need to encourage learning.

  • Effective feedback loops are established, monitoring outcomes and revising decisions and policies where necessary. 
  • Courage to experiment. Ability to tolerate temporary reduction in productivity during problem-solving and learning curve. Supporting people and teams when they are out of their comfort zone. 
  • Willingness to learn lessons from anywhere, not just a narrow set of approved exemplars.

5. Boards need to encourage knowledge-sharing

  • All kinds of experience and expertise may be relevant 
  • Overcoming the "silos" and cultural differences 
  • The collective memory should be strong and coherent enough to support the organization's values, but not so strong as to inhibit change.

6. Boards work as a team, and collaborate with other teams

  • Effective communication and collaboration within the board - don't expect each board member to do everything. 
  • Effective communication and collaboration with other groups and organizations.
  • Circle Organization (Robertson)



Note: The six points I've discussed here correspond to the six core capabilities of organizational intelligence, as described in my Organizational Intelligence eBook and my Organizational Intelligence workshop.


See also

Brian Robertson, The Sociocratic Method. A Dutch model of corporate governance harnesses self-organization to provide agility and a voice to all participants (Strategy+Business Aug 2006)

Steve Waddell, Wicked Problems, Governance as Learning Systems (Feb 2013)


Updated 1 March 2013

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