Teamwork: 3 Ways to Boost Collaboration on Boards



Trusted to serve
by Tamara Paton in Interpersonal, Work of the board

I’m heading into a doozy of a work week. Five straight days of board meetings, preceded by 400 pages of pre-reading, await me. The only break I’ll enjoy is the 5-hour flight between meeting locations and the mental haze imposed by a new time zone.

This probably doesn’t sound so bad to most, especially those who would be delighted to serve on multiple boards. And there was a time when I would pack my suitcase and flip into a productive mindset with ease. I don’t know if it’s age or the routine of working solo from a home office, but I’m about to tread outside my comfort zone.

Fortunately, I don’t have to manage the workload alone. As my kids recently belted out at a Ringo Starr concert, I get by with a little help from my friends. My husband will juggle the kids. My editor will polish my next blog post. And I know that I can count on my fellow directors to help me rise to the occasion.

However out of my element I feel this week, my colleagues will inspire my “A” game. Prior to the meetings, they will sharpen my thinking with the key questions on their minds. Over meals, they will remind me of unresolved issues that could affect the near-term decisions on our agenda. And when I deliver my report as HR committee chair, my colleagues will fill in any gaps that I overlook.

I know I can count on this support, because I’ve had their backs in the past. We have a history of collaboration, an unspoken commitment to bring out the best in one another. We’ve worked together on committees and found ways to ease tension in particularly tough discussions. Our shorthand cues include keywords that reference past hot topics and raised eyebrows that signal a need to dive deeper.

I know that I’m not alone in enjoying relationships like these. Many of us know the value of many hands making light work. To bring even more teamwork to your board service, consider three ways to collaborate more effectively with your board colleagues.

Find social time together

I’ve written previously about the important role social ties play on boards. Through informal relationships, we give and receive feedback and understand the context underlying a colleague’s views. Conversations taking place over meals, on a golf course, or while running together on a back-country trail can be invaluable.

Signal opportunities for teamwork

In their early days, new directors joining your board may be shy about building these relationships. It’s important that seasoned directors model the kind of teamwork found in high-performing board cultures. During my first year on the Meridian board, for example, one of my fellow directors offered me a few coaching points after each meeting. At first glance, this colleague and I have few shared interests, but he made an effort to create common ground. As I gained confidence, those conversations surfaced aligned values and commitment to the organization. Today, we lead the board as a chair-vice chair team.

If your board meets in camera at the start of each meeting, use the time to understand the issues on your colleagues’ minds. Once you know that Mike is unclear about a market entry path or that Rob is curious about brand investment, commit to helping them build their lines of inquiry. And if you need back-up on a sensitive line of questioning, this is a great time to ask others for support.

Share the workload on a project

When I was invited to write an article for the Corporate Board journal last year, I jumped at the opportunity. But before my feet hit the ground, I called a colleague to see if she would serve as co-author. Whatever success that would ensue would be even greater if shared.

The collaboration gave us a chance to get to know one another better and learn what motivates us. As we recalled the board activities featured in the article, we revealed our differing interpretations of events. I’ve enjoyed similar benefits when volunteering for an ad hoc committee. A smaller group managing a pressing issue tends to let its guard down easily and stand united once the storm has passed.


Too many board meetings feel like a ping-pong match. Directors launch a series of disjointed questions and management lobs their best responses back. To create the kind of dialogue that creates value for an organization, however, boards need to do better. And at the risk of resembling a cheesy motivational poster, it all depends on directors’ willingness to knit together lines of inquiry and work together as a team.

Question: How have you benefitted from effective teamwork on boards? What do you do to encourage more collaboration with your colleagues?

Please share your response via Twitter, LinkedIn or e-mail.

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Teamwork: 3 Ways to Boost Collaboration on Boards

by Tamara time to read: 3 min