Answer the question, Director! - Business Works
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Answer the question, Director!

by Dr Bengt Skarstam, Reshape Sverige and Ivor Hopkins, Responsibility3 Ltd Many Captains of Industry have suffered under the withering questioning of a government hearing, faced uncomfortable moments in shareholder meetings or embarrassment in social media as a result of poor decisions made in the boardroom. The Board of VW is no doubt still under such scrutiny in Germany. Ivor Hopkins and Bengt Skarstam ask, "If your own Board was in the hot seat, how would it, and you, fare?"

Assuming that you are neither crazy nor foolhardy, yet you are not sure if your Board is on the level, here are five essential questions to put you on the front foot and ensure that you have a strong, supportive, competent and independent Board of Directors on your side, driven by the best outcomes for your business.

  1. Do you recognize your board as a supportive, competent team or just as a collection of self-obsessed individuals?
  2. Do they receive bonuses on top of their agreed remuneration?
  3. Are they, as individuals, representing any specific group of stakeholders?
  4. Are any of them Board Professionals, in other words, members of other Boards or Managing / senior Directors in another company?
  5. Do you and the Chairman of the Board have good chemistry?

With these five questions in your mind, take a moment to think back and reflect on the last Board meeting you attended: were you happy with the outcome, or does angry, disappointed, disillusioned, humiliated define the situation more closely?

If you're quite happy, then you can stop reading this article!

But, if you feel that something needs changing in order to build a less dysfunctional1 Board, we suggest you follow our questioning. Question 1 above could need a real clean out and questions 2 to 4 will fragment your Board whilst question 5 could give rise to a power struggle which isolates you from them ... so what do you do?

First off, you have to make up your mind about the kind of Board your business needs, the kind of Board required to fulfill the company's purpose in a responsible way.

Second, look at the money, a real driver for Board Professionals. Are they bonus driven? Who is behind giving bonuses to the Board members? Start a dialogue with them and convince them that fragmentation is causing team incoherence, which divides the Board members and breeds a "what's in it for me?" mindset.

Our belief is that a responsible and creative Board without personal gain is the best insurance a business can have! Do you agree?

Third, start a discussion with your stakeholders about the qualities a Board member should have for supporting the business in an active and responsible mode and how independent they should be from particular stakeholder pressure.

Fourthly, what is the background and job experience of each Board member? Are they damaged goods in the sense that they're a Board Pro or a CEO in another company?

Fifth, how do you feel about the chemistry between you and the Chairman? Are you on the same journey, moving towards a common destination and expressing the purpose of the business in a common language so that eg. your employees are hearing a consistent message?

Last but not least, turn to our first question: is the Board a team? Is it a competent, independent Board with a creative spread in age and gender, focussed on the responsible success of your business as their main objective?

When you have answered - properly and responsibly - the questions above then you can be sure that you are creating a Board that can guide and challenge you in your joint mission towards the real and responsible purpose of your business.

Any questions?

For more information, the authors can be contacted via their web sites:

Dr Bengt Skarstam, Reshape Sverige at

Ivor Hopkins, Responsibility3 Ltd at

Reference: 1 Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Jossey-Bass 2002)

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