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Effective Boards have a culture which is Psychologically safe. In practice this means that the board values how it functions in the same way as it values its agenda and who sits on the Board.

A Psychologically Safe  Board is one where constructive challenge is valued. It is safe to be in a minority of one in a board decision or discussion. The type of discussion is focused on key strategic and operational issues where all parties recognise the value of being both individually and collectively accountable for the focus of the Boards work and decisions made.

Feedback at the Board is balanced, measured and constructive. It is safe to raise a concern and to highlight risks and failures because the collective approach of the Board is to support and address issues arising.

Silence is seen not as acquiescence or agreement but as a warning sign that some members of the Board are either disengaged from a subject, do not understand the subject, or disagree with the direction of travel.

Psychological Safety makes it possible to admit to areas of knowledge weakness, concern over a matter which generates a high degree of uncertainty, risk or anxiety and hence allows the Board to hear from Board members who might otherwise be reluctant to articulate their views.

There is ample evidence that Psychologically Safe Boards and Teams generate more effective decisions and are significantly less likely to fail or miss critical risks or opportunities.

Where Boards take Psychological Safety seriously, they become the role model for the rest of your organisation. In a time of seismic and unprecedented change this is a key feature which every organisation will need to adopt.

For Teams, Psychological Safety is about creating environments where staff can Thrive at work. That is to say, where staff are able to give of their best, exercise good judgement and decision making, enjoy their work, feel valued and appreciated, challenged and stretched appropriately, are supported by line managers and colleagues and where it is safe to have and express an alternative opinion and it is also safe to ask for help from others, including managers and the Board.

Is your board thriving, hiving or surviving?

Thriving Boards

Thriving Boards enjoy Board meetings. Boards will generally have a positive outlook. They adopt proactive thinking rather than seeking to blame. They are highly collaborative and productive. Board decisions are of a high quality. Autonomy levels for Board members are clear and appropriate. The make-up of the Board is diverse, bringing a range of opinions and skills which are highly valued. The boards mechanics such as timeliness of reports and depth of analysis allows for board members to work effectively. Thriving Boards recognise the value of evaluation and feedback on their performance. Board members pre-empt Psychological Harm at others at the board and to staff and employees.

Hiving Boards

Boards that display Hiving characteristics are likely to be working very hard but not achieving the full benefits of that effort. Board systems may not be effective. Duplication of effort is common. Board Members are often not valued for their contribution. The Board relationships are not always team based. Some Board members go home tired, disillusioned and exhausted. Decision making is often impaired, and mistakes can occur but are not learnt from.

Surviving Boards

Surviving Boards struggle to function optimally. Board Members may be present but not able to give of their best. Decision making may be impaired because Board members do not contribute in a manner which gives constructive challenge or raises concerns in a way which advances the issues. Often Levels of Board colleagues support may at best be modest. In some cases, Board behaviour is destructive and harmful. Some Board members may be thinking of leaving the Board. There may be poor levels of recognition for contribution either by Board members or the Chair. Erratic attendance levels at the Board may exist.

BoardWorks provides an overall Thriving, Hiving and Surviving® score in relation to:

  • The effectiveness of the mechanics of how the Board works and its administrative functionality.
  • The appropriateness of the make-up and diversity of the Board to ensure the board is able and skilled to respond to the changing world in which your organisation now exists.
  • The level of Psychological Safety allowing or inhibiting the Board to function in a Psychologically Safe way and make improvements, wise and insightful decisions.