A New Model of Board Effectiveness




Lencioni’s model is built on the following premise:

  1. Pursuit of a clear goal requires commitment and accountability from the whole team,
  2. this won’t be truly present if there is a lack of buy-in from all members.
  3. buy-in can only be achieved in an environment where the options have been fully debated and
  4. open debate can only be achieved in an environment of trust, where people speak frankly and with full participation.


Following are 5 key questions to ask your Board or Executive team (and some tips we discovered from running the workshop):


This is a different take on the usual strategic planning approach where we work on a few priorities simultaneously and delegate these across the organisation.  Instead, the idea is to select a single, short term goal which cuts across the organisation and which everyone needs to get behind.

This was a challenging exercise because everyone has a slightly different take on what is the “single most important thing”.  What we found worked best was to set the ‘job to be done’ within the context of the broader strategy (ie: it doesn’t replace it). It also worked best when expressed as a business outcome rather than a financial goal.

For example, we considered a sales target, a production milestone and revenue goal.  The actual goal selected was a channel development goal over the next 4 months which would then pull through (automatically) a number of other major initiatives in its wake.


The usual approach to the execution of the strategic plan, is to divide & conquer.  Lencioni’s approach however says that in the case of the single overriding goal (what I’m calling the “job to be done”), everyone contributes.  It doesn’t sit in a single silo or department. Instead it’s so important that everyone is on the hook for it and everyone is required to hold one another accountable for progress.


Patrick Lencioni makes the observation that it’s too easy for people to sit on the side line and say “that’s their goal, their department. I don’t need to worry about that”. Instead, this approach demands full buy-in from everyone around the table.  There are no observers.

In our case, we were considering a $20m investment.  We had to move the project (and our mindset) from 1 person’s responsibility for success (ie: a Department Head), to the group taking mutual responsibility for success. Interestingly, this also required the leader of the project to give up a degree of ownership and accept other people’s involvement.


Like many organisations, there was a degree of ‘diplomacy’ at work around the table (ie: people not wanting to rock the boat).  As such, there was an absence of debate.  This was creating an environment of limited buy-in to decisions and reinforcing siloed behaviour.

To break this habit we had to invite active debate. We forced one another to express and understand opposing views and when faced with easy consensus, tested that through questions such as “someone give me a contrary view here” or “someone make an argument against this”.


If people are guarding their words or not sharing their real views, there can’t be full and active debate. This team was finding it difficult to separate the issue from the person. They were concerned that speaking their mind would come back and bite them at them at a later date.

This is a big hurdle and yet crucial if a group is going to fully debate and explore options for the ultimate benefit of the organisation.  A lack of trust is a hard one to overcome and not something that can be fixed overnight, but it’s important to start the process.  We began down this road by using a form of 360 degree feedback so that the group could reflect on and appreciate one another’s strengths.


In an environment of increased focus on Board and leadership effectiveness, Patrick Lencioni provides a great approach to achieving results through better decision making, commitment and focus.  More importantly, it gives a Board or executive team a common language to tackle the issues that get in the way of team effectiveness and begin the journey toward a high performing team.

“Board Associates takes a workshop approach to Board effectiveness, beginning with an initial review and then together with the Board, creating a development plan and agenda to work on over the following year. Contact us to find out more.

Transformation: The Board’s Missing Agenda Item

Yet another corporate collapse brings into sharp relief an issue which seems to be missing from the agenda in Boardrooms around Australia: Stewardship of Transformation.

Disruptive consumer and competitive trends are not new and yet many fail to respond. I wonder then, how active this discussion is in the Boardroom?  In my view there is a clear imperative to “re-tool” our organisations for the business models of the future. It is fundamental to the sustainability of our organisations and to our duty as Directors.

 there is a clear imperative to “re-tool” our organisations

But what to do about it… I’d like to offer my own perspectives and “questions for the Board” as follows:

  1. Board Composition: is there sufficient cognitive diversity on the Board? Are there skills & experience in innovation and new business models (not just IT)?
  2. Market Sensing: Is the voice of the customer present at Board meetings (beyond NPS and satisfaction surveys). How are we detecting, reporting and responding to emerging trends?
  3. Strategy Development: How are we leading or responding to disruption? Are we looking at ways to disrupt ourselves? Are we planning for transformation or resting on the laurels of past success?
  4. Resource Allocation: Have we provided the means to foster innovation & experimentation? Have we invested sufficiently in our future selves?

In my view, the transformation imperative is clear and so to is the Board’s responsibility for the stewardship of that transformation. The challenge is that the skills to transform don’t reside in the traditional roles of marketing, HR or IT.  Instead, new disciplines such as human centred design, lean and design thinking have emerged to confront this challenge; but few organisations have them and they certainly aren’t represented in the Boardroom.


Does Your Organisation Need Liberation?

I’ve been inspired by a recent HBR article on liberating and empowering teams (Carney and Getz).  The notion of a smarter, more agile, more responsive organisation is not new and yet for most, it remains elusive. In fact, given the number of failed attempts I’ve witnessed, I would ask “is it even possible?”

Carney & Getz would say it is.  In observing over 100 companies, they found examples of increased productivity, employee engagement and bottom line performance.  In fact, in those organisations studied, engagement was almost double that of their peers. But if the benefits are there, why is it so hard for organisations to take this evolutionary leap?

creating a more engaged, productive and profitable organisation is at the heart of our mission

For Boards & Executives, creating a more engaged, productive and profitable organisation is at the heart of our mission. But before you go and hire the next ‘corporate guru’ for your annual offsite, there are some important realities (and uncomfortable truths) to think through:

  1. Leadership:  Unfortunately many of our leaders are now 3+ decades into their career and have some pretty firm views on how things are done.  I’ve seen a number of examples where leaders espouse the new world order but a) can’t bring themselves to do it and b) undermine the change through their unconscious values & behaviours.
    Question for the Board: If we set the tone from the top, are our leaders playing in tune?
  2.  Culture:  I’ve had some recent experience with organisations who talk the talk, but can’t walk the talk. Typically their organisational DNA is anchored in a past business model, culture and norms.  Waving a wand or getting up behind a lectern doesn’t change anything when you’re fighting the innate nature of a human collective. Question for the Board: Will our culture embrace liberation or will there be an auto-immune reaction to it?
  3. Management skills:  Frankly, 90% of managers couldn’t manage or lead a liberated team.  Putting ego aside and acting as a coach rather than a manager is a pretty advanced skill. It takes a lot of emotional intelligence and leadership acumen to guide people in flight without disrupting the flight pattern. The reality is, most managers don’t have what it takes and in the average organisation, this type of change would lead to chaos. Have you seen 5yr olds play soccer?
    Question for the Board: Do we have a plan to coach the coaches? Do we need a migration strategy to protect brand, customer and financial value? 
  4. Diversity:  Sure a liberated team approach would suit some people, but other personality types find these environments difficult, ambiguous and in some cases a source of anxiety. If we’ve accepted the need for and benefit of diversity, we need to cater for that in different work styles & preferences too.
    Question for the Board: How will you protect the diversity of work styles as you move to a liberated team model? 

There is no doubt that dynamic, self-organising teams can have benefits for competitiveness, customer value and long term sustainability.  But to pursue a “corporate liberation” transformation you should definitely go into with your eyes open.


This business model presents major governance challenges for an organisation.  It requires transformation of the Board’s culture and processes as much as is required in the business. For example, how would the Board:

  • Manage culture when it evolves from the bottom up?
  • Balance compliance & risk management with entrepreneurial behaviour of teams?
  • Invest & allocate resources without centralised accountability and a common measure of performance?
  • Monitor leading indicators when they vary from team to team?
  • Ensure legal & regulatory compliance when teams exercise extreme autonomy?

Despite the challenges however, the benefits can’t be ignored. Some would argue that this change to employee expectations is inevitable. That being the case, now is the time to start considering these issues and their impact on our strategy, culture and our  duty to drive performance and sustainability.

The focus of late has been on digital transformation but the imperative of organisational transformation is just as real.  Trends such as corporate liberation are just the tip of the iceberg. Now is the time to experiment and invest, understanding the needs & trends of the future employee ecosystem before they are thrust upon us.

10 Point Recipe for Success

Leading in a volatile environment we think being fast, bold and innovative is what drives success.  This week I’ve been reading “Great by Choice” (Jim Collins & Morton Hansen) and interestingly, the evidence suggests otherwise. 

Instead of innovation & agility, the research shows that a consistent and methodical application of a proven recipe is what drives success – not fast paced innovation & entrepreneurship.

“The only way to remain great is to keep on applying the fundamental principles that made you great.

— Jim Collins


Collins & Hansen encourage us to define and implement a SMaC recipe – a specific, methodical and consistent set of ingredients, practices or principles.  They don’t have to be bold, they don’t have to be sexy.  In fact, when doing this exercise myself, I found that my 10 point recipe was actually quite ‘pedestrian’. There were no super human efforts required, no super powers or clairvoyance.  Just a set of activities which come quite naturally (to me at least).  It gave me a greater sense of certainty and a simple framework for how I plan to move ahead.


My challenge to you this week is to spend 15min on defining your own SMaC recipe.  Think about what has driven your success to date and list the 10 things you attribute that to.

  • Are you still doing them now?
  • Have you embedded them into your organisation?
  • Do your team and partners know and understand the recipe?
  • Do you have a rhythm for their implementation on a day to day basis?

As someone who loves entrepreneurship and innovation, repeating the same things day in day out can seem a little mundane…but then again it’s sometimes nice to have a little more predictability in my day too.  The challenge is to hold myself accountable and keep chipping away at the small things that make a big difference.

A Business Plan Isn’t About the Document

Most organisations I’ve worked in and worked with, begrudge business planning.  Not because they don’t know how, but because it didn’t add a lot of value last time they did it.

But why doesn’t it add value?  The problem lies in the lack of direction it contains and how it’s used once it’s created.

“The value of a map comes from the direction you take from it

— Matthew Dunstan

Instead of a document, we need a roadmap.  Something that guides the evolution of the business, gives us concrete milestones and acts as a filter for every day decisions and actions.


When we crossed the Atlantic, we didn’t just point the boat east and start sailing.  We planned a route with a number of major waypoints along the way. Even when circumstances would force us off course, the overall plan still held true.  Our goal was clear.  Our route, chosen for all the right reasons, was still valid. Our waypoints still gave us a short term focus, helping us break the endeavour down into manageable pieces.


I believe business plans need this same approach.  A destination, a broad plan describing how you’re going to get there and a series of waypoints to guide you day to day.  You can document this in a number of ways, but my favourite is to show it in a Gantt chart or flow chart format.  It allows you to capture the direction, strategy and sequence on a single page that is easy to communicate and review.

[we’re running a Business Planning Masterclass in July to help leaders and entrepreneurs craft better business plans]


Of course crafting the plan is just the start.  Nothing happens without execution and this is the second challenge for business plans and those responsible for them.

Instead of regarding it as a job done, the business plan should drive the agenda of your management meetings.  To illustrate, here’s a sample of a standing management meeting agenda I use with clients.  We start every management meeting with these 3 items:

  1. Touch base with the overall plan
    • Where we’re headed & why we care (vision, mission, goals)
    • Our plan to get there (strategy, roadmap, & immediate milestones)
  2. Progress against the immediate milestone
    • Report on action items from each stakeholder
  3. New opportunities or threats to the business.
    • Validate against the plan


Starting the meeting ‘with the end in mind’ (Covey), is a great way to keep everyone on the same page and most importantly, align the actions and initiatives of the team to your plan for the business.  It helps keep the focus at a strategic level and acts as a useful filter against which you can review actions, ideas and opportunities:

  • If they contribute to or accelerate the plan, they’re in.
  • If they relate to a milestone further down the track, they’re parked.
  • If they’re not aligned to the plan, they’re out.

[Further reading: Entrepreneur’s Shiny Ball Syndrome]

With a clear direction and roadmap a business plan can act as a valuable tool guiding the day to day operations of the business.  So dust it off, reduce it to a flow chart and get it onto the management meeting agenda.

Strategic oversight and consistent implementation will focus your resources and drive your business faster than anything else.

[Rising Tide Ventures will be holding a series of Business Planning Masterclasses during July.  You can find out more or register here]