Board Teamwork and Accountability
Boards and CEOs are most effective when they allow themselves to be open to ideas and vulnerable enough to have their own missteps corrected.
By working together, board members and company executives gain experience in helping each other meet goals. Two principled underpinnings of success are teamwork and accountability.
Teamwork is an expression of the opportunity and responsibility to collaborate with each other to help reach agreed-upon goals. The board itself is a team. Its goal is ensuring that the business is well-run in line with the owner’s vision, values and expectations for business performance. The board elects the CEO, who is both part of the team and accountable for business results.
One of the basic elements of teamwork is for each team member to be good at what they do. Board members have different skills and experiences that together match what’s needed to support the envisioned future of the organization. Becoming more personally and professionally competent is an important contribution that both board members and the CEO can make. Teamwork, by definition, implies interdependence. What each team member does affects others. What one fails to do can cause others to fail. Effective team members know what’s required. Then, they meet goals, maybe even exceed them.
High-performing team players hold themselves and each other accountable for results. Directors and leaders respond quickly to each other in a way that demonstrates competence and shows respect. This means doing what needs to be done and completing tasks on time, even when it means hard work. This is the discipline that fosters integrity and builds the character of a team of board members and leaders reporting to the board.
Teamwork involves both leadership and followership. Team players are ready and willing to step forward and give their best when they are recognized by others as the one who can most effectively lead in a given situation. No less important is good followership. After a director or the CEO has their say and the board makes a decision, everyone aligns their efforts with the team.
Accountability is a powerful word. People naturally want others to be accountable but sometimes aren’t willing to be accountable themselves. This is especially common when an idea isn’t their own. Each director and the CEO must decide what they are willing to be accountable for. To create long-term results, the owners, the board members and the CEO must agree upon the vision, values and expectations for business performance and then protect, pursue and achieve them as a team.
To achieve results, the board encourages meaningful interaction and participation with the CEO and other top leaders during and between meetings. Participation is the opportunity and responsibility to influence decisions, particularly in our areas of experience and competence. It’s up to all board members to understand marketplace realities and company advantages and participate in back-and-forth communication that results in winning plans for the enterprise. That creates an environment where directors and leaders can feel accountable for seeing that strategies are pursued and goals are met, even if plan elements were not their first choice.
Commitment is necessary, but not sufficient. Progress is regularly and visibly measured, individually and for the enterprise. There is little joy in success and no correcting of shortfalls without consequences. Consequences are natural and necessary or there can be no accountability.
Here are some questions that individual directors and the CEO can ask themselves to help build accountability:
- What are the goals to which I am committed?
- What are the key ways I can measure progress toward these goals?
- How closely am I paying attention to these key measures?
- What corrective actions am I taking when progress is slow or results are repeatedly lacking?
When we attribute to each other honorable motives and are willing to give each other a break, it enables us to achieve in ourselves and inspire in others teamwork and accountability. High-performing directors and CEOs allow themselves to be open and vulnerable, demonstrate humility and respect, and carry themselves with dignity even under pressure. It turns out that teamwork and accountability are as applicable for directors as they are for CEOs and their leadership teams.
Rob Sligh is a director of Utility Supply and Construction Company and an advisory board member for both Erhardt Construction and Spectrum Industries Inc. He serves as senior consultant for The Family Business Consulting Group Inc.