Board Dynamics

Why Miscommunication Happens Among Directors

Published: April 11, 2016

Read Time: 4 minutes

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In the game Pass the Message, the first person in a group whispers a secret message to the second, who in turn whispers it to the third. This goes on down the chain until the message reaches the last person. More often than not, hilarity ensues when the last person announces the message they received because at this point, the original message already evolved, making it significantly different in amusing ways.

It may be funny when it is a game, but it is a serious matter when miscommunication happens within a board of directors. At this level decisions are made that affect the whole organisation so there is no room for confusion. To prevent miscommunication from happening, look out for the following:

1. Board members do not know each other.

Directors do not need to be close friends, but they do need to have solid professional relationships in order to collaborate effectively. Yet, given the low frequency with which board meetings are held, directors do not usually get the opportunity to mingle with one another. To foster strong ties among directors, consider inviting them all to a social setting such as a casual dinner at least once every quarter. This gives everyone the chance to talk and build relationships.

2. Board members do not work together.

Getting to know each other is only the first step; working together is the ultimate goal. Board meetings are all about making big decisions as a group, so collaboration is a critical element. With board members sometimes scattered all over the country – and in some cases, even the world – finding a way to work together in real time may be a challenge. Fortunately, there are digital solutions that facilitate virtual meetings. They give board members the capacity to work with one another remotely, rendering distance a non-issue.

3. Board members do not have the same information.

Information in board books should be aligned across all directors; otherwise, they will be making decisions based on conflicting pieces of information. However, it can be difficult to ensure consistency in printed, hardcopy board books. Last-minute changes cannot be disseminated in real time, especially when an updated version needs to be couriered. The fastest this can travel is same-day delivery, and even that can take hours. In this regard, paperless board packs in digital form are more convenient and effective in relaying the latest information instantly.

4. Board members do not have enough information.

Ideally, board books should contain complete and updated data that directors will use as basis for strategic decision-making. If they do not have the information they need, directs cannot make informed choices for their organisation. You need to ensure that directors have access to updated and complete information wherever they are and whenever they want. A document management system that can be accessed online can help in this aspect. Even directors in transit will be able to review the latest version of meeting documents in the virtual board book.

5. Board members don not pay full attention.

Board meetings tend to run longer than regular company meetings so occasional distraction can happen. From taking an important call to grabbing something to eat, there are a myriad of reasonable excuses to zip out of the meeting for a bit. These small interruptions can make it difficult for directors to be looped back in especially if they have been gone for more than a few minutes. However, you can help them rejoin quickly with mobile presentation tools that engage participants and keep track of their places within a meeting. The purpose of these tools is to make meetings more interactive by giving participants the ability to follow discussions easily.

6. Board members do not focus on what is important.

Updates should not take up a big part of a board meeting, not when directors are already expected to have read everything they needed to know beforehand. Yet even with ample preparation, the meeting can still end up unproductive when directors lose track of the goal and focus too much on less important matters. Discussions become lengthy and off-topic, and before anyone knows it, the meeting has run overtime. To avoid derailing the meeting, keep the focus on the main objectives by adhering to the agenda. A detailed agenda ensures that all main points are discussed within a specified allotment of time.

Miscommunication cannot be prevented altogether. When dealing with a team of diverse individuals, it is bound to occur sometimes, whether within a group of friends or a board of directors. However, you can still try to manage miscommunication to minimise confusion. And when an organisation’s future is at stake, confusion can translate to costly consequences.


Chairman of the Board, Founder and Managing Director

An MIT graduate, Wan Lik Lee is the Chairman of the Board, Founder and Managing Director of Azeus Convene Board Portal. Wan Lik helps and offers consultancy services to boards and senior leadership of enterprises all over the world to improve the meeting productivity and governance. Wan Lik Lee was a Manager in Oracle Systems Limited and a Project Team Leader in Versant Corporation (formerly Versant Object Technology Corp.).

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