All the members of your board might agree on the social change you want to see occur as the result of your work. But the odds are that each person will have a drastically different idea of how to achieve that change, and what the metrics of success should be along the way. These differences can lead to argument and disjuncture. However, they come down to how people fundamentally approach and solve problems. In order to avoid disconnect, you must first understand each person’s individual approach. Then you can leverage these perspectives to become a stronger governing team.
One of the most illustrative examples of individuals’ different approaches to problem-solving emerged while doing research on promising solutions to strengthen K–12 education in the United States. As I dug in, I found diverse assessments and solutions to our country’s education system. It became apparent to me that people had fundamentally different thinking styles. These different approaches influenced not only their opinions on education, but also every little decision they made in their day-to-day work.
When assessing problems and finding solutions, people tend towards one of four distinct approaches: community-oriented, human-centred, structure-driven and knowledge-driven. Each approach has its own perspective on what the problem is, and where the solutions lie.
Using education as an example, if you were standing in a room of board members, parents, educators and community leaders, these perspectives might sound something like this…
“If you look at the best schools in the country, you find one thing they all have in common: incredible parent participation and leadership. The parents are well-informed and invested in the school’s success, and they hold the school accountable for results; they also find ways to generate resources and advocate for the school within the community. To improve education in this country, we must learn why some schools have this kind of parent involvement and build that capacity. You can never know what challenges a school will face in the future, but with strong parent and community involvement, schools can face any challenge.”
“Have you been in a typical public school classroom lately? How do we expect a child to be inspired and learn in that kind of environment? The school is more like a prison than a place to promote feelings of well-being that help students learn and focus. We need to build pupil-based schools that provide fresh air and light. Classrooms need to be arranged to create natural social settings that encourage communication. If we want kids focused, they also need healthy food. And why are we asking teenagers to come to school at the break of dawn, when all the research says this isn’t natural and makes learning nearly impossible?”
“We don’t provide the right training, support, or tools to teachers and principals. We need to design effective leadership practices, policies, and procedures for school systems. We need to redesign curriculum and pedagogy (i.e., educational approach) that works with the needs of today’s kids, and help teachers adopt the new design so they can be set up for success. With this kind of support, our principals and teachers can achieve anything.”
“Improving education requires that we look at the data and research and build upon it. We don’t know what successful education even means today; we blindly continue to follow old models that don’t work anymore. We don’t know enough about education and what success looks like for today’s schools. We continue to take the test and fail, because we ourselves aren’t doing our homework.”
In my research and work with organisations, I have come to understand that these four approaches not only emerge when people focus on issues such as “fixing education,” but fundamentally define how we approach our work overall and how we collaborate with others.
On any board, there is a need for all these approaches to work in concert, no matter the issue at hand. A diversity of mindsets and perspectives is always going to be stronger than a single point of view. However, it is also critical to understand the bias we each have in solving problems. Understanding how our own approach differs from that of our colleagues enables us to truly collaborate and avoid falling into dysfunction.
Three Tips for Boards
Imperative now offers a free 10-minute assessment for your board members to take to uncover which of the four problem-solving approaches they lean towards. Ask your board members to take it before your next board meeting. The assessment can be found at: www.imperative.com/signup.
Using their assessment results, have each board member share why she supports the organisation and what she sees as the key to its success. Have her define how it influences her perspective on the right direction for the organisation.
You need a diversity of problem solving types on your board. Track the types currently on the team and define where you have gaps that you need to fill in your nominating process.
This article was first published in the Better Boards Conference Magazine 2015. Early bird tickets for the 2017 Conference are available now.