New research shows how to channel disagreement to improve board dynamics

London, 5 July 2017 – ICSA: The Governance Institute and Henley Business School have today released research showing how conflict and tension can be managed to produce better board dynamics. Led by Professors Andrew and Nada Kakabadse, Professor of Governance and Leadership and Professor of Policy, Governance and Ethics respectively, the Conflict and Tension in the Boardroom study looks at the nature of conflict, the role of tension in the boardroom and offers invaluable strategies for those managing conflict and dispute.

“Challenge, scrutiny and robust debate in boardrooms are part of the effective oversight of management and the decision-making process, but can tip into confrontation. Tension and conflict are not only inevitable, but play an essential part in effective boards. It is only by understanding and embracing this process, that the best possible decisions can be reached,” says Simon Osborne, Chief Executive of ICSA: The Governance Institute.

The key report findings are as follows:

  • Tension is disagreement, which is often uncomfortable, but can be resolved by healthy debate. It is a positive and necessary force for any effective board
  • Conflict is tension that has escalated to extreme and unresolvable levels. It can be disruptive and detrimental, changing the nature of board relationships which can be hard to recover from
  • Tension and conflict are most likely to emerge during decision making, and around organisational purpose and direction in particular
  • For a board to work in the best interests of the organisation, personal differences and opinions need to be managed effectively by the chairman and the company secretary
  • Good boards have ‘managed tension’. Robust debate, diverse membership, open dialogue and tackling uncomfortable issues head-on are shown to benefit boards, particularly in decision-making and strategy development
  • Conflict resolution, particularly when things have become personal, is best done outside board meetings through informal discussions between board members.

“The chairman, company secretary and senior independent director are perceived as playing the most important roles in managing tension and conflict resolution. Company secretaries in particular play a critical role in conflict resolution, facilitating and maintaining boards’ ability to function,” concludes Professor Andrew Kakabadse.

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Notes to Editors:

1      ICSA: The Governance Institute is the professional body for governance. We have members in all sectors and are required by our Royal Charter to lead ‘effective governance and efficient administration of commerce, industry and public affairs’. With over 125 years’ experience, we work with regulators and policy makers to champion high standards of governance and provide qualifications, training and guidance.

2      Henley Business School is a leading triple-accredited business school and part of the University of Reading. With campuses, offices and partnerships around the world, over 7,000 students from more than 100 countries and 72,000 alumni from 150 countries, we are a truly international institution. Our courses are enriched by up to date knowledge, research and commercial experience and aimed at students and professionals at every stage of their career, from undergraduate through to postgraduate, PhD, MBA, DBA and executive education.

3      The findings are informed by 35 face-to-face interviews with 11 chairmen, 10 CEOs, 7 company secretaries, 3 chief financial officers, 3 non-executive directors and 1 general counsel. The full report can be read at

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