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Posted on 5th July 2017
New research - channelling disagreement to improve board dynamics

The Governance Institute and Henley Business School have released research showing how conflict and tension can be managed to produce better board dynamics.

Led by Professors Andrew and Nada Kakabadse, Professor of Governance and Leadership and Professor of Policy, Governance and Ethics respectively, the Conflict and Tension in the Boardroom research looks at the nature of conflict, the role of tension in the boardroom and offers invaluable strategies for those managing conflict and dispute.

“Challenge, scrutiny and robust debate in boardrooms are part of the effective oversight of management and the decision-making process, but can tip into confrontation. Tension and conflict are not only inevitable, but play an essential part in effective boards. It is only by understanding and embracing this process, that the best possible decisions can be reached,” says Simon Osborne, Chief Executive of ICSA: The Governance Institute.

The key report findings are as follows:

  • Tension is disagreement, which is often uncomfortable, but can be resolved by healthy debate. It is a positive and necessary force for any effective board
  • Conflict is tension that has escalated to extreme and unresolvable levels. It can be disruptive and detrimental, changing the nature of board relationships which can be hard to recover from
  • Tension and conflict are most likely to emerge during decision making, and around organisational purpose and direction in particular
  • For a board to work in the best interests of the organisation, personal differences and opinions need to be managed effectively by the chairman and the company secretary
  • Good boards have ‘managed tension’. Robust debate, diverse membership, open dialogue and tackling uncomfortable issues head-on are shown to benefit boards, particularly in decision-making and strategy development
  • Conflict resolution, particularly when things have become personal, is best done outside board meetings through informal discussions between board members.

“The chairman, company secretary and senior independent director are perceived as playing the most important roles in managing tension and conflict resolution. Company secretaries in particular play a critical role in conflict resolution, facilitating and maintaining boards’ ability to function,” concludes Professor Andrew Kakabadse.

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