Disagreements among board members are healthy. In fact, they support the purpose for having a board in the first place. That is, insuring that multiple viewpoints are heard and that no vital viewpoints are missed in reaching decisions for the group being served. What keeps these differing viewpoints moving forward positively is commitment to common purpose, vision, values. As long as the proposals before the board can be tied to maintaining or moving these forward, the group will find its way to an accord and remain a positive influence upon the organization.
But, an enemy is different. (Enemy: def. one who feels hatred toward, intends injury to, or opposes the interests of another.) What has switched is that opposition is no longer rational or even based in the issue. It is about paybacks.
Those of you who have experienced this phenomena in your group know how destructive this can be.
What creates an enemy? In my experience, I have seen two sources, and they are quite different:
Source 1 – Imposing Compromise
Alongside the organizational values stated and held in common by the group are the core values of the individual members. They are things like fairness, honesty, decency and the like. When the majority by vote imposes a decision upon an individual member that violates that member’s own core values, they have sown the seeds of creating an enemy. The group has become an enemy to what that individual is committed to. The individual can’t really defend that decision (even though it is their ethical obligation) and stay true to him/herself, thus the group has become an enemy.
The individual over time will take one of three courses of action:
- Seek to make up for the perceived damage of the wrongful decision by getting it reversed and/or by making a subsequent decision that makes up for the damage. If successful, then the individual can return to being a productive team member.
- Leave the group that it no longer believes in.
- Stay within the group, but actively undermine its effectiveness, i.e. do damage to one’s enemy.
Source 2 – Always Losing
One of the dangers of having a board dominated by individuals, or even by a CEO, is that there is little room left for members to have an impact. Over time, they feel as if they are not contributing or worse that they are not respected. If the individual argues with the group or the CEO on a number of issues and always loses, there is a hidden scorecard in that individual’s mind. When the score gets too out of hand, i.e. the other side is continuously winning, the individual will do almost anything to even the score. “Almost anything” could be digging up dirt or spreading malicious rumors about those that dominate, so as to discredit them and reduce their dominance.
How to know you have an enemy
I have described the dynamics well enough that you should be able to spot whether you have an enemy currently in your ranks. But, here is how you spot one in the making. Look for the following signs:
- Disrespectful rolling of the eyes when someone else (usually a dominant player) is speaking.
- Sidebar conversations taking place when someone else (usually a dominant player) is speaking.
- Inappropriate emotion when defending a position, “why is Ralph so charged up over this?”
- Secret caucuses on breaks.
What you have here is someone whose button has been pushed, but who doesn’t want to make it known, as the perception is that they will be punished by the dominant forces. These signs represent efforts to regain favor and respect for opinion.
Preventive Steps You can Take
- Each member and, especially, the chair should monitor for situations in which what is being proposed seems to violate a core value of an individual. Get that person’s full consideration on how and why they feel violated by what is being proposed. Ask if the proposal could be modified such that it could be supportable. Avoid forcing a decision that you know will generate bad will, even if urgent for the enterprise.
- Monitor your group dynamics to be certain that individuals are not dominating. The “know it all” or person viewed as having all the experience can be deadly to group dynamics. The chair should assure that everyone has a chance to speak on an issue. If you sense that an individual is dominating, refer them to this post and counsel them as to the potential harm that could come of it, while still communicating your appreciation for what they bring to the table.
- Beware when a member of the group goes silent, not participating in the discussion of a key decision. When this happens, the Chair should state that h/she wants to hear from everyone on this issue before it comes to a vote, and then proceed to go around the table, calling on each person. Do not allow someone to speak more than once until everyone has spoken.
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