One Assumption Board Presidents Should NEVER Make

We are pleased to bring you this article from Susan Detwiler, Standards for Excellence Licensed Consultant. 


Whether or not your board acts like a team may actually depend on whether you’ve told them they are.

There’s great research  out now that proves that teams are more productive when they’re told they’re working together.  In the research, small groups of people met, were then separated and each individual was given tasks to complete. Individuals in one group (the “Together” group) were told they were working together, though they remained physically separated. Individuals who met in the other group were given the same tasks, but were not told they were working together. In each case, the participant was given a hint or clue to help them perform the tasks. Those in the “Together” group were told it came from another member of the group. Those in the other group were told it came from staff.


The individuals from the “Together” group not only did better than the individuals in the other group, but they stayed at the tasks 48% longer, solved more of the tasks, and found the tasks more interesting. In other words, just being told that they were working “together” created an environment in which they were more motivated and more engaged in the task at hand.

In the words of Heidi Grant Halvorson

“The word “together” is a powerful social cue to the brain.  In and of itself, it seems to serve as a kind of relatedness reward, signaling that you belong, that you are connected, and that there are people you can trust working with you toward the same goal.”

As other research has shown, human beings are just naturally social. We have been bred over millennia to be attuned to others. Even when we believe ourselves to be introverts, we want to know that there are others out there to whom we can relate in our own way.

That’s why, when we bring new members onto a board of directors, it is understandable that there is an initial feeling of uncertainty. The other members have a shared history. There are references to previous decisions and previous board members. Shortening the time it takes to overcome these feelings of alienation increases the likelihood that board service will be a positive experience.Introducing new board members by emphasizing that they will be working together with the rest of the team can accelerate building new relationships.

This also holds true for existing board members. Each board discussion and each board decision should explicitly be made “together.” References to working together for the sake of the institution or the mission reinforces the importance of each individual role in building success.

The post was originally published by the Detwiler Group.  Susan Detwiler is a Standards for Excellence® Licensed Consultant who specializes in strategic planning, governance, board excellence and facilitation. Located in the MidAtlantic, she works with agencies across the United States. Have some thoughts to share on this subject?  Get in touch with her at


About susandetwiler

26 years for-profit work; 15 years nonprofit; and I see a lot of overlap -- and differences. Let's explore them! Currently consulting to nonprofit organizations in strategic planning, leadership development and marketing.
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