The founder of HR specialist People Puzzles, Ally Maughan, asks if your business is at risk of having a boardroom full of Alan Sugars?

If you look at the profile of company directors you’ll find a lot of competitive, assertive people. And you need them. They are the people that can drive results. Full of vision and determination, they are what can make a successful business.

But, on the flip-side, they can be stubborn, hard-to-manage mavericks.

If complemented by the right mix of personalities, this can work really well. But if you’ve got a boardroom full of similar characters it can make for a damaging working environment.   Suddenly, instead of being the heartbeat of the business, the boardroom can be a place for turf wars, defending of territories and a lack of cohesion.

Case in Point

My business worked recently with a company with a board of four directors. The business was run by committee with no one MD and all four directors were dominant characters who weren’t communicating with each other.

With so much division the company wasn’t going anywhere. It had reached a hiatus where old grudges were getting more airtime than discussion on how to drive the business forward.

We spent some time interviewing the board and the whole management team and conducting some psychometric testing on key individuals.

It became clear that the management team were all stepping on each others’ toes. There was no division of responsibility but there was plenty of division among the team.

It’s like rowing a boat

If everyone in a rowing team took on the same role without talking to each other they’d be fishing themselves out of the Thames in no time.

Everyone has their role to play – different roles. The stroke in the stern sets the pace, reads the river and has the technical knowledge. The bowman sets the direction, checks things are stable and has to adapt in an instant to change. The middle provides the sheer power, getting the boat moving, following the lead.

This is how it has to be. If everyone was steering you’d end up going round in circles. If everyone was going at the speed they wanted to, you’d have broken oars.

There always need to be one person steering. And that’s the same in a small business. So what’s the answer?

We suggested to the board that one person should become the managing director. Someone who could have an overall overview of the business and check it was going in the right direction.

All the other responsibilities should be split among the team. This would give each director a focus with areas that they alone would be held accountable for.

It provided direction and energy and they went on to successfully sell the business to another company.

Getting the best out of people

Running a business is about getting the best out of the people you have working for you. But if, as a board, you aren’t getting the best out of yourselves it’s never going to happen.

You have to create a culture where everyone has clear goals about what they are trying to achieve. Ultimately your business will be far more successful if you concentrate on getting the best out of all of your staff rather than just concentrate on being the best yourself.

So take some time to ask yourself; are we all working together to run this business or are there times when we are working against each other?

If so, what can we do to change that? Sometimes it might mean a big shake-up at the top. But it could be well worth it.

Ally Maughan is founder of People Puzzles; a specialist consultancy providing practical HR solutions for growing businesses