The Danger of Like-Minded Trustees

The Black Lives Matter campaign is prompting much excellent reflection on the lack of racial diversity of Boards in the charity sector. Boards also need to think about cognitive diversity (which often comes with racial diversity).

When it comes to the complex issues faced by Boards today, breadth and depth of insight, innovation and wisdom are paramount. This level of cognitive ability cannot come from any individual alone, rather the wisdom of the team is required.

The classic mistake is to assume that a group of highly intelligent individuals makes a capable Board. If every individual thinks alike, ten people are little better than one. It is easy to have excellent Trustees who make a poorly performing Board. For a Board to maximise its problem-solving ability, it must maximise its cognitive diversity and therefore deliberately seek out people who think differently.

The successful organisations of tomorrow have Boards in which there is genuinely diverse thinking, and the intellectual power of the Board is therefore considerably greater than the intellectual power of any individual Trustee.

Of course, even if cognitive diversity is achieved, it is not always made best use of. An overbearing Chair, a dominant couple of Trustees, or a closed-minded culture, will shut down healthy diversity of viewpoints. Lack of good communication will also undermine the benefits of diverse thinking. This is something a wise Chair will watch carefully.

Sadly, our experience of many years working with charity boards, is that many Boards merely fish from their existing networks when it comes to recruiting Trustees. This may be fine for a start-up charity, but the challenges that come with further growth need the thinking power that comes with cognitive diversity.

At Carnelian Search we have worked with a numerous charity Boards, and even more Board Trustees. Part of our mission is to enrich charity sector Boards by helping appoint Trustees who bring diversity in every way, including cognitive diversity.

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