Nonprofit boards are a team-a group of people formed for a common purpose. Team theory and research can provide helpful insight about increasing board effectiveness and efficiency. And equally important, thinking about the board as team helps with understanding who is best to be at the "table".
In a WSJ article titled In Search of a Perfect Team at Work, the subject of what makes a successful team as well as what criteria to consider in putting teams together is examined.
One finding from a behavioral scientist noted that what made a great team based on his research were: "Those in which people had the most tolerance for their teammates’ perspectives—and those in which people had the greatest diversity in personalities. Introverts and extroverts, for example, or improvisers and organizers."
The same behavioral scientist further noted that: "We often have an intuitive understanding about what qualities make people click or clash in the workplace, but don’t follow up on that gut feeling in a systematic way. We don’t always make sure our assessments of people’s personalities are actually correct, and we don’t analyze what happens when we throw together people with certain traits.
Again, according to the article:
One of the biggest efforts to quantify what makes teams work together comes at Alphabet Inc.’s Google. Its People Operations department crunches data to answer questions such as whether a team’s productivity was correlated to how often its members socialized outside the office (not necessarily). Google also found that the best teams created a culture of “psychological safety,” meaning team members could share thoughts, ideas and concerns without fear of ridicule or punishment.
In a separate workplace effort, a manager, seeking to improve team effectiveness through a better "matching" process found:
.....we put together people who were motivated by the same thing. Are they motivated by safety and security, or are they trying to take risks? Are they seeking power? There were no right or wrong answers, but it was most important that members of the group were motivated by the same values. If you have different goals, you could be pulling in opposite directions,” he says.
Finally, the WSJ article noted from another study:
The nonprofit Human Dynamics Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology In studying workplace teams that have tangible markers of success, such as sales teams, found that the most successful groups share some characteristics. They are:
1) Each member of the team is engaged. That means everyone talks and listens in roughly equal measure and that they talk with everyone, not just a manager.
2) There are a diversity of ideas, and everyone is willing to consider new ideas. This can be measured through surveys, as well as the tone of voice people use.
3) Everyone is setting goals for a project.
“You need everyone exploring slightly different things, but going in the same direction,” Mr. Pentland says.
I pose that nonprofit Board Chairs, Governance Committees and CEO's would do well to incorporate their understanding of the research and literature on teams as a tool for increasing board effectiveness.