4 red flags that point to a toxic board culture: ‘The signs are quick and ominous’


Last week, the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) published its latest Blue Ribbon Commission report. This year’s topic is as intriguing and complicated as the humans who sit as directors: board culture.

While group dynamics are often challenging, the report recognizes that the psychosocial landscape for directors has become especially complicated. Boards are diversifying—finally welcoming executives who have truly different life experiences and perspectives—while responding to intense economic, social, and regulatory demands. The pace of change, thorny new issues, and the sheer volume of work has arguably opened the door to insecurities, ruffled feathers, and toxic behaviors in board meetings.

That’s a problem because the best, high-functioning boards “operate collaboratively with agility and speed to tackle whatever is coming down the pike,” says Mary Winston, cochair of the NACD’s commission and a former CFO at Family Dollar and Giant Eagle, who has spent more than 20 years as a corporate director. To be prepared for anything, she says, boards must be deliberate about creating strong interpersonal relationships, trust, and cohesiveness.

The new report offers dozens of tips for building new patterns and several questions directors can ask themselves to reflect on their own habits. It also lists signals that suggest your board is becoming dysfunctional. Fortunately, those indicators are not subtle, says Oscar Munoz, the commission’s other co-chair and the former chairman and CEO of United Airlines. “The signs are quick and ominous,” he says.

Here are some examples of board culture red flags:

Side conversations and cliques. When directors have one-off sidebar conversations—old-guard board members or newer directors splintering off, or when people with similar opinions band together—it’s obvious, and it’s a problem, says Munoz, a director at Archer Aviation, CBRE, Salesforce, and TelevisaUnivision. He adds that if siloed discussions and gossip aren’t brought into the open, the issues behind them fester and “will absolutely magnify and explode when you hit a crisis.”

Constant conflict. Having productive debates with people openly sharing differing opinions is a sign of positive board culture, says Winston, a director at Chipotle, Northrop Grumman, TD Bank Group, and the NACD. But she warns that frequent, heated conflicts are a symptom of something deeper: some issues or frustrations are being suppressed. 

A ‘veneer of collegiality.’  The report notes that boards sometimes take on a “go along to get along” attitude that can actually stifle honest debate and “allow the board to tolerate inadequate director performance.”

The board agenda is too full. Meeting schedules that don’t allow enough time for robust conversations or have become “stale” and unresponsive to a company’s reality should also raise concerns, the report states.

The NACD commission focused its attention on practices boards can adopt to start reinforcing or rebuilding their codes of conduct, whether to prevent or repair glaring issues. For example, it suggests that boards assign leaders to monitor board behavior and add “board culture” to meeting agendas at set intervals. The report places special emphasis on topics like onboarding, offboarding, board evaluations, and inclusion.

“Bring it up to your board, work through these things,” Munoz says of the document. He adds that examining how you interact with each other is a good first step toward improving how you lead the companies you oversee—and it’s best done before an emergency.

Although a strong corporate culture includes friendly and cordial relationships among co-workers, there should be boundaries established between a worker’s personal and professional life.  

If this line is crossed, there could be consequences for a person's career, according to job and hiring experts.

"Oversharing at work can undermine professionalism, contribute to burnout, and even make some employees feel uncomfortable," said Cheryl Hanson, a district manager with Insperity, who is based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  

And that's not all. 

Oversharing on the job can have negative consequences on employees, their teams, and even an organization’s culture, said Hanson. 

Two work colleagues are having a happy discussion in an office setting

Employees who speak too freely about their personal lives while on the job may seem to others unprofessional and unfocused on their work, according to hiring experts.  (iStock / iStock)

She says some of those consequences could be the following. 

A lack of professionalism

Although employees should have a cordial relationship with each other, employees who speak too freely about their personal lives may seem unprofessional and unfocused on work.

Lower productivity

Employees who regularly overshare may not be devoting enough of their time and mental energy to their jobs.

In extreme cases, Hanson said these conversations can lower the productivity of the entire team.

Workplace conflict 

Oversharing can create workplace conflict, said Hanson, if employees disagree about sensitive subjects such as politics and religion.

Harassment allegations

Oversharing can have consequences for employers, too. 

Man thinks while typing

Oversharing in the workplace can create conflict, said one HR professional, if employees disagree about sensitive subjects such as politics and religion. (iStock / iStock)

"If employees overshare about inappropriate topics and managers do not intervene, the employer could potentially face harassment claims," she added. 

How oversharing can impact reputations

Employees who regularly overshare personal details about their lives and themselves may be viewed as less productive. 

In addition, they may be seen as unprofessional and immature compared to employees who maintain appropriate boundaries, said Hanson.

"Be aware that talking about big-ticket purchases, like a second home, may cause jealousy in coworkers who could not afford a second home of their own."

Although it can be tempting to want to brag or share milestones at work including your child’s achievements, your two-week cruise to Europe, or your purchase of a vacation home, sharing accomplishments such as these can cross the line into bragging and even trigger jealousy, especially if finances are part of the discussion, Hanson noted.

"If they feel comfortable, workers can talk with their teams about travel plans, family events, and other developments in their lives," said Hanson.

"However, be aware that talking about big-ticket purchases, like a second home, may cause jealousy in coworkers who could not afford a second home of their own."

Another repercussion of oversharing at work could be coworkers’ actions. 

team discusses in an office

Those who overshare while working "may be viewed as having poor boundaries and people may question their ability to socialize well with customers, clients or other organizations." (iStock / iStock)

"When people at the office know too much about what's going on outside the office, your personal problems might be used against you," Morin told FOX Business.  

A competitive coworker might even tell the boss that you shouldn't get that extra assignment because you're distracted by your divorce, she said.

"Or your boss might unintentionally not give you as many responsibilities because they know you're going through difficult times," Morin continued. 

How do others at work view oversharers?

Workers who overshare are often viewed as "loose cannons" or people who can't separate personal from professional, said Amy Morin, a psychotherapist in Marathon, Florida, who is the author of "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do." 

"If an employee exhibits inappropriate behavior, it is best to have the conversation early for immediate course correction."

She also told FOX Business, "Coworkers may not trust them and supervisors may hesitate to give them more responsibilities.

In addition, she said, "They may be viewed as having poor boundaries and people may question their ability to socialize well with customers, clients, or other organizations."

How can managers stop the oversharing?

Managers can intervene by taking the employee aside for a private conversation, or addressing the entire team if oversharing has become a widespread problem, Insperity's Hanson noted. 

group working in office

Workers who overshare are often viewed as "loose cannons" or people who can't separate the personal from the professional, said one psychotherapist.  (iStock / iStock)

"Let them know they have crossed a boundary," she said. 

"Explain why their words were inappropriate and give them resources to maintain boundaries in the future. If necessary, report the interaction to HR, especially if there are concerns about harassment."

In addition, Hanson said it is important for employers to train managers on how to have difficult conversations.  

"If an employee exhibits inappropriate behavior, it is best to have the conversation early for immediate course correction," Hanson said. 

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post