Kay Group K.K. – The Need for Open and Frank Conversations at Board Level

“We are still way too polite with each other.” A repeated statement when Chief Executives describe their boards in Japan. Why is this a problem for Executives? Why do we, as coaches, hear this statement repeatedly?

The Board’s Responsibilities

Boards are responsible and held accountable for the decisions they are making. Hence, the quality of the decision-making process and the decisions themselves are fundamental to the work of boards, their organizations, and the investors. When board members are too polite with each other, they don’t have so-called healthy debates. Why do these debates improve the quality of decisions? Because they invite board members to share their professional opinions.

Without such debates, the board has neglected its mandate and responsibility towards the investors and the employees. At a personal level, an open and frank conversation among board members helps to create more buy-in and enhances the commitment of each member to the board decisions, as everyone has been heard.

Why is there no healthy debate in Japan?

Here are some reasons why we experience boards that are too polite. For one, the board might consist of ‘insiders’ only. This might lead to faster (superficial) consensus decision-making. However, that leads to biased and selective use of information together with a way of working to ‘not rock the boat’. A second reason is the lack of diversity. In Japan diversity is still closely linked to gender. But we need the diversity of thought, background, experience, education, etc.. Boards that lack this kind of diversity have a narrow perspective on topics as members see things the same way. This results in many blind spots. And thirdly, the required open and frank conversations in Japan are often happening in private settings outside of the boardroom, without the participation of every board member.

High performing teams 

As part of developing high performing team, healthy debating and constructive conflict management is a competency that can be coached. Before conducting such conversations, there needs to be a high level of personal trust.

As prerequisites, each board member needs insight that healthy debates result in better outcomes for the board and they must be willing to invest in trust-building before debating.

As a coach, we partner with the teams and create a safe environment.  This allows assessing the current levels of trust and how to improve, before identifying and agreeing on rules for the team’s way of healthy debate. Each team has nuances, therefore there is no one-fits-all approach for healthy debate. We work with each team to uncover their way of collaborating and debating and help them realize it in their daily work.

For more information on high performing team building and development at the executive level, in Japanese contact axel.wellbrock@kaygroup-asia.com or in English contact karin.wellbrock@kaygroup-asia.com

Kay Group K.K. – Leadership and Team Development & Organizational Consulting

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