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Board-Executive Assessment of Teaming

November 12, 2020

Posted in: WATSON Views

  • The chair of a Crown corporation feels like the CEO controls and limits information going to the board and is resistant to the board’s guidance. The CEO feels like the board is continuously interfering in operational matters and is trying to guide them to a more strategic level by limiting the data that goes to the Board.
  • The board and executive team of a not-for-profit have a highly collaborative and trusting working relationship. There are few disagreements and the CEO’s plans get passed easily and unanimously. A new director worries there is not enough constructive questioning and rigour. The CEO worries she is not getting challenged enough – who will help her ensure she has thought through all the possibilities?
  • Board meetings are a snooze. Conversations go in circles, and lots of issues reappear and get rehashed without ever coming to a decision and moving forward. A new director tries to provoke some debate and strategic conversation on pressing issues, but the agenda is packed so the conversation is deferred to a future meeting where it is allocated a whopping 7 minutes of discussion.

Do any of these sounds familiar?


The board-management dynamic is a critical one. Boards, CEOs, and executive teams need to function constructively and effectively for organizations to thrive. Roles, engagement, information, and governance practices have to keep pace with a rapidly changing world – and so does the board-management relationship itself.

Organizations have been tested by COVID-19, and will be tested again. Whether experiencing challenge or opportunity, boards and executive teams are under significant pressure right now. In times of uncertainty, relationships, communications, and lines of accountability are tested and can fray. While trust and partnership can bring resolve and unity, cracks in the surface can reveal deeper issues.

As many organizations are now at a point where they can pause and reflect, it is an opportune time to strengthen the board-executive relationship to prepare to face what the future brings together. One way to build alignment and effective dynamics is to assess the current strengths and challenges of the relationship in order to determine areas of future focus.

To support you in your learning and reflection, we are making WATSON’s BEAT (Board Executive Assessment of Teaming) freely available for the time being. This is a time when organizations need alignment and effective dynamics most. We want to set you on the right path to achieve this.

WATSON’s BEAT model is designed to explore the unique kind of alignment and dynamics that need to be in place when the board and the executive team work together. The model looks at 12 dimensions of effective board-executive teaming, within four categories:

We developed this model to better understand the unique nature of the board-management relationship. The relationship challenges many traditional conceptions of what makes a strong, effective team. While trust, shared purpose, and healthy dynamics form the foundation of a productive partnership, there is a degree of necessary distance required at the same time. Each group has a distinct identity and role that must be preserved. The board-management team benefits by not being overly aligned, and by retaining space, clear boundaries, and healthy tension between the two groups. Yet, at the same time, they must somehow achieve openness, mutual commitment, and the ability to get important work done together. And all of this happens in the context of information asymmetry, diverse experience and backgrounds, and sharply different time commitments.

While boards and executive teams engage at board meetings and offsites, this time is often spent on the work, and not on building the relationship. And while shared meals, team building, and committee-level relationships can help build connections, most boards dedicate minimal time to building and strengthening this important relationship, let alone talking about it.

There are many ways to build and foster a strong, effective partnership. They will look different depending on where you are starting from. The best approaches acknowledge the unique nature of the relationship and are intentionally designed to suit this context and the limitations within. They require conscious effort by all and strong leadership by the CEO and chair to set the tone for the partnership.

Now more than ever, we need effective partnerships at the top driving innovation, ensuring seamless execution, and flexing to emerging challenges and opportunities as organizations face a changing world.

WATSON’s Board-Executive Teaming Assessment

Because we’ve had a lot of questions lately about dynamics (perhaps because of the increased pressure of COVID) we’ve decided to move one of our WATSON diagnostics online to support directors who are thinking about these issues – it’s free for now as a way to support the conversation.

Complete the assessment to receive your BEAT report. Bring it back to your board-executive team to start a discussion on how to strengthen your unique partnership

Take your assessment today.

Start HERE