Friday, February 25, 2011

When Board Meetings Are Like Bad First Dates

Read this. It's a blog post by Dan Ariely about some research he did on how people act on first dates.

First dates are all about strategies that both parties can agree to but which won't help them learn if the date was effective. Think of a first date: We try to express ourselves and learn about the other person, but not express ourselves too much or offend by being intrusive. We default to friendly over controversial, even at the risk of sounding dull.

Sound familiar? Dan's talking about dating, but it reminds me of some association board meetings I've been in. "Default to friendly over controversial, even at the risk of sounding dull." That's practically a mission statement for some associations.

Dan calls this "bad equilibrium"--a strategy that doesn't result in a positive outcome for anyone. To change that dynamic, Dan ran an experiment, in which he limited the type of discussions people on first dates could engage in. He gave them a list of questions, and their discussion could only revolve around those issues. Questions like:
  • How many romantic partners have you had?
  • When was your last breakup?
  • Do you have any STDs?
  • Have you ever broken someone's heart?
  • How do you feel about abortion?
What he did, essentially, was rig the market. He imposed an artificial risk level that would help prevent bad equilibrium.

We believe that restricting the market in such ways can get people to gravitate toward behaviors that produce better results for everyone. (Remember, in dating, learning sooner that you're not compatible is a better result than wasting time being polite to each other.)

Does the same theory apply to association board meetings? Like Dan says, by forcing people out of their comfort zones, might we ultimately gain more than just allowing everyone to fall back on those tropes that are safe for everyone, and useful to no one?

If so, what kind of questions would you put on your board members' discussion list? And what kind of questions should your board members be putting on yours?

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Dave Phillips said...

Well done Eric. I think this insight encourages us to do team building at the Board level. That might move them from the first date to being an old married couple. We need to spend the time needed for the Board to get to know each other. Not sure that analogy works great, but you probably get the point.

Eric Lanke said...

Thanks, Dave. My big takeaway is that association boards and executives need to develop the capacity for asking tough questions, beause that's the only time that real progress gets made. It shouldn't be personal and it shouldn't be threatening. But it does need to be tough. What are we doing here and why?

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