Each board of directors has its own characteristic rhythm, social rules and level of effectiveness. To this end, it has long puzzled many as to what exactly makes a board effective. In his research, the article's author found that "there is something powerful about the way directors speak to one another, especially when they disagree." His interviews with directors uncovered two kinds of boardroom conflict – cognitive and affective. Each has very different implications for board performance. Cognitive conflict is task-oriented, with an emphasis on how to get things done to achieve optimal results.
Conversely, affective conflict is more driven by emotions and focused on personal differences between people. "Boards that recognized affective conflict and addressed it quickly were associated with high governance quality," he writes, "whereas boards that were less willing to address affective conflict or ignoring it altogether were associated with low governance quality." In addition, there appeared to be a relationship between board governance quality and prior personal relationships of directors. When directors had a prior relationship with a newly recruited director, they were more driven by their natural desire to maintain a congenial relationship. Conversely, where directors only have the boardroom as the context of their relationship, directors were less willing to sweep issues under the rug for the sake of maintaining peace.
The author offers three tips in closing: one, recruit the best people you can by casting a wide net beyond personal networks; two, address affective conflicts as soon as they arise; and, finally, don't be afraid of cognitive conflict. Instead, embrace it as a source of innovation and creativity in problem solving.
Harvard Business Review (05/07/13) Charas, Solange