Can You Make "Dumb" Boards Smarter?

by Dan Kirsch, Mentor, JCamp 180

Good decision-making is essential to effective governance. But are you confident that your board is making the best possible decisions for the future of your camp?

Camp boards attract smart, generous, hard-working people in service to the camps they love. But even the smartest, most well-intentioned board members are still human and thus susceptible to a variety of group dynamics that can lead your board to make poor decisions.

Making Dumb Groups Smarter (an article from the Harvard Business Review) applies critical lessons from the field of behavior economics to identify some of the most common challenges to better group decision-making.

Are you aware of the influences and biases that can hamper the deliberative process of your camp's board or committees?

Are you confident that your board members are fully engaged in the decision-making process - especially when they possess information or opinions that run contrary to the prevailing thinking?

Do a couple of board members tend to dominate discussions and stifle participation by their peers?

Making Dumb Groups Smarter not only identifies the most common signals and pressures that lead to poor group decisions, it also offers you practical, tactical ideas that you can implement to improve your board's decisions.

A couple of solutions in the section called "Making Groups Wiser" seem to hold great potential for improved board interactions. Think of "Silence the Leader" as an alternative to "Follow the Leader," a way to prevent the strongest voices from stifling productive dissent from the outset of a discussion.  Rotating the role of Devil's Advocate might also help strengthen your decision-making by ensuring that contrarian views will not only be welcome but encouraged - and not always from the same self-appointed Devil's Advocate.

Share this article with your board members.  Ask them if they recognize the dangerous group dynamics described from their experience on your board. Make it a point of discussion for your next board or governance committee meeting. Make sure to pay attention to the solutions offered in the article, and invite suggestions from your board to improve your group decision-making.

As a result you can be more confident that your board will make better decisions. And you will have more fully engaged board members who will know that their contributions to your board's work are valued and appreciated.