True governance really is a thing of beauty

the various aspects of governance

An organisation in murmuration

In a world that is moving so fast, where the relationship between business and society has probably never been more critical to the survival of our planet; innovation, creativity and the need to be open to what the truth might be, is vital.

Governance might be more complex than we would like to imagine.

‘In complex flight formations
Their flexible design
Is perfection wing to wing tip
As they shift and realign

Now their leadership is changing
And their roles swap side to side
They’re expanding and contracting
Like in ebbing evening tide

This is magic murmuration
Such a complex form of play
It’s a festival of music
It’s a commune holding sway

It’s a search for night time settlings
In which everyone takes part
It’s a very special rain dance
It’s a moving work of art’                                          (Declan Whitney, 2015)

Governance has navigated a path towards its current rigorous codification since the early 1990s and this largely driven by corporate failure (Nordberg, 2011). With UK codes emerging every 2-years and with countries like Lesotho publishing their first only a month ago, it would be understandable to presume that this was what governance was meant to be – but maybe it’s just that we haven’t opened ourselves to another truth.

In conversation with the board

I started with my normal question, [I was sitting with a room full of directors]

What is governance to you?’ I asked.

I got a lot of the familiar responses, legislation, regulation, rules, requirements, codes... [I think you get the point].

And then came something that surprised me, although perhaps it shouldn’t have,

Governance is boring.’

I took a deep breath and considered carefully how to respond.

Googling quickly, I found what I was looking for; starlings in murmuration.

I asked the directors,

What do you see?’


I asked,

What if your organisation was able to perform like a murmuration of starlings?’

The same person who had previously described governance as being ‘boring’ proudly stated,

That would be beautiful.’

Governance is beautifully complex

If organisations are just a group of people gathered together around a common purpose; why has corporate governance drifted so far away from this? Nature often provides us with insight and clarity where humans struggle. Starlings are brilliant at murmuration, a collective symphony of leadership.

True governance really is a thing of beauty. 

All too often, when I have asked others what they perceive governance to be, I have been met with responses around ‘rules' and ‘codes' or intangible things such as ‘integrity' and ‘transparency’. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with these, but it’s very difficult for us, as humans, to relate to them and indeed to measure them.

Nature, however, understands governance. Starlings understand governance. The fantastic spectacle, which makes us in awe of the fluidity, adaptability, creativity and congruence of flight flocks.

Governance’s etiology is the Latin ‘gubernare' to steer.

We often see governance as simply direction from the top. We perceive it as 'being governed'. The reality is that governance is about how well the organisation, as a whole, works together and this in line with the direction of the organisation's aims, values and strategy.

Governance is not something done to us, it is something we do together. Steering as one, guided by leadership.

As humans, we have created codes and rules because it’s a solution to a problem. Corporates fail and we seek to solve. However, governance is probably not formed of linear relationships and these relationships are not binary. The governance of an organisation has been determined by many as a ‘complex system’ (Keating and Katine, 2015) and therefore it’s perhaps inconceivable that a multidisciplinary approach to any solution and the understanding of governance be warranted, but this is largely what we see in codification.

If we are to successfully navigate the problems and failures we experience in the corporate world and the challenges of climate change, we have to shift the narrative of governance away from compliance and codification.

Governance is not an outcome; it’s a complex interdisciplinary process, which is non-linear and multifactorial. It is the driver of organisational performance.

How we can help

At CoSteer we support you in enhancing your organisation’s efficiency and effectiveness and their impact on performance by using our proprietary technology and assessment methodology. With evidence-based practice, interdisciplinary research methods, and governance expertise, we measure three foundational and interconnected elements of performance governance | Organisational culture, Decision-making, and Decision implementation.

Perrin is the founder and CEO of CoSteer and you can email him at


Bloomfield, S., 2013. Theory and Practice of Corporate Governance: An Integrated Approach. Cambridge University Press

Cadbury, A., 1992, The Financial Aspects of Corporate Governance (Cadbury Report), London, UK: The Committee on the Financial Aspect of Corporate Governance (The Cadbury Committee) and Gee and Co, Ltd

Keating, C.B. and Katina, P.F. (2015) ‘Editorial: foundational perspectives for the emerging complex system governance field’, International Journal of System of Systems Engineering, Vol. 6, Nos. 1/2, pp.1–14.

Nordberg D., 2011. Corporate Governance – Principles and Issues. Sage Publications, London.

Declan Whitney, 2015. Murmuration. Poem [Extract]

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