The beautiful thing about boards

The ability to influence boardroom dynamics is fundamental to the successful company secretary.

The beautiful thing about boards is that they continuously face new challenges. And the beautiful thing about company secretaries is that, as the board’s secret psychologist and unofficial coach-in-chief, they can play a crucial role in boosting the agility and resilience of their boards by influencing board dynamics.

The ability to influence boardroom dynamics is fundamental to the successful company secretary, yet it remains a mostly intuitive and unspoken activity. How to encourage and support others to change their behaviours is a sensitive practice, and the requirement is rarely articulated in any job description.

We dedicated our recent Changemakers workshop to explore how the company secretary can change board dynamics and were delighted to hear from a behavioural psychologist and board evaluator and effectiveness expert, Alison Gill. In her keynote, Alison shared her recommendations for company secretaries who are seeking to change board behaviours.

Alison believes that board review is no longer regarded as a tick box exercise. Directors and chairs understand both the need for ongoing evaluation of board effectiveness and the development of new strategies to ensure that the board can deliver future value. For a company secretary to be a successful change agent in board effectiveness, they need to prioritise outcomes of any change to achieve and ensure that their actions are entirely focused on those one or two behaviours that will link directly to outcomes.

Once the priority for behaviour change has been established, the company secretary should focus attention on what that change should be. This needs to be done through storytelling that draws people’s attention to what needs to happen, rather than by asking people to buy-into an analysis or commit to a correction of what may be going wrong. It is important not to offer a critique of shortcomings as these may trigger avoidance strategies, anxiety or simply reinforce actual or perceived weaknesses. Instead, the company secretary needs to invite people into what Alison describes as ‘a space of creativity’ in their thinking. Space where they can reach an ‘ah-ha’ moment, make new connections and crucially, take ownership of the solution.

Once people are open to thinking and doing things differently, the company secretary can then work with others, particularly the chair or the senior independent director, to create opportunities to practice new behaviours. This practice will secure and reinforce change.

Alison’s top tips for company secretaries seeking to enable behaviour change are to:

  • Be highly selective by maintaining your focus on what the board needs to deliver
  • Concentrate your efforts on the one or two behaviours that will affect the outcomes
  • Take time with your storytelling, being transparent, patient and never pushy
  • Avoid trying to give answers. Focus instead on asking the right people the right questions
  • Get comfortable with the uncomfortable and practice your approach
The author of this blog is Nicola Hooper, Associate Director, Company Matters

About the Changemakers: We are a group of company secretaries and governance professionals who are collaborating in a series of workshops across 2020. We aim to explore our changing profession, define what it means to be a changemaker in governance, and share our passion and experience with the broader community. This initiative is delivered in partnership by Link Company Matters and the Chartered Governance Institute. #Bethechange

About Alison Gill: Discover more about Alison at

About Boardroom Dynamics at the Institute: Boardroom dynamics became part of the syllabus for the Chartered Governance Qualifying Programme for the first time last year, reflecting the importance of understanding how culture and relationships affect board practice. 

We also run a one-day course in Coaching Skills for Governance Professionals and a two-day Boardroom Dynamics Masterclass.

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