Navigating board issues

If you run a company long enough, you’ll almost definitely have to deal with some sort of board-related conflict. Whether you’re dealing with disagreement between board members, trying to work with a problematic board member, or navigating personal challenges between your board and yourself, learning to deal with these issues is vital to your success.

Resolving conflict between board members

Disagreement among board members is healthy. A well-functioning board knows how to respectfully offer and receive conflicting opinions. But some times, these disagreements can escalate, creating conflict that distracts from the board’s core focus and limits your ability to work effectively.

If conflict arises during a meeting and you are unable to move the meeting forward, suggest tabling the conversation until later. You can schedule 1:1s or small group meetings to specifically dig in to the issue at hand.

After the meeting, give the issue as much time and attention as it requires. Ensuring your board is functioning well is absolutely critical—you cannot confidently move your company forward if your board is in contention.

Approaching difficult conversations

For most people, candidly discussing negative topics doesn’t come naturally—learning to navigate challenging conversations is a skill you have to learn.

There are many instances in which you and your board will have to engage in difficult conversations. You might have to resolve conflict between two of your board members, share bad news with your board, or discuss not-so-positive feedback. Whatever the situation, be humble, honest, and open. Focus on the issue at hand and don’t make things personal.

You and your board members are all here to help the company succeed, so keep that your primary focus. Remember that you don’t necessarily need to see eye-to-eye with someone, but you do have to gain an understanding of where they’re coming from.

Most importantly, don’t shy away from a conversation just because it’s uncomfortable. The more you practice navigating these challenges, the stronger and more resilient you and your board will become.

Dealing with problematic board members

You may not personally like or get along with every member of your board, and to a certain extent, that’s okay. But if a board member is chronically disengaged, pushy, or manipulative, that’s a serious issue you need to resolve. Problematic board members aren’t just unhelpful, they can actively work against your company’s success.

If you’re dealing with a problematic board member, take gradual steps forward. Start by scheduling a 1:1 and addressing the conversation head on. Clearly articulate why you felt the need to meet with them and share your observations and feedback constructively. Share specific examples to illustrate how their behavior has been problematic, and clearly outline what you expect them to change. Just be sure to focus on the facts and avoid making things personal.

Give them an opportunity to adjust their behavior moving forward. If things don’t improve, you may have to escalate. In some cases, it might be appropriate to ask your board chair to help intervene. If that still doesn’t work, your final option is to consider removing the problematic individual from your board.

Be aware that removing a board member is a difficult process, especially if your board member is also an investor. Ideally, it is best to avoid this situation altogether by recruiting and selecting board members carefully in the first place.