My Jaw-dropping Experience In A Boardroom

Last week I witnessed something in the boardroom of one of my clients that I’d only seen with actors following a script on TV or in the movies. A genuinely honest dialogue among a senior leadership team.

The conversation was about owning operational and communication issues that have negatively impacted their organization’s culture. I watched it unfold in amazement and it was one of the most productive meetings in which I’ve participated.

I commend the first team member to get the elephant in the room, on the table. She clearly acknowledged her role in creating some of the organization’s dysfunction and exhibited a sense of remorse. Once it was said out loud, others in the room agreed and as they say, admitting you have a problem is the first step in recovery. Each person then spoke candidly about how their own behavior and that of others within the room where impacting their teams directly. While the language was a bit raw, it was done in a respectful manner.

This type of candor results in more expedient way to get things moving in the right direction. We waste so much time talking around the issue. Then begins the “meeting after the meeting” cycle where a couple of people come together to say what was really on their mind, but not in front of the entire group so the right people are not in the room.

Forthright conversations like I experienced don’t just happen. There has to be the right environment and trust among the participants. Dr. Duane C. Tway, Jr., published his 1993 dissertation, A Construct of Trust, and defined trust as, “the state of readiness for unguarded interaction with someone or something.” When it comes to trust in communication, the degree of trust has a huge impact on what is said and how it’s said. Having trust enables sharing information, providing constructive feedback and speaking with good purpose about people.

It was obvious that this senior team does have that trust with one another. Yes, if this conversation had happened months ago, they might have avoided some of the issues they are now facing. Regardless of the timing, the important thing is that the discussion did happen and it was was really refreshing to observe a team of leaders communicate honestly and professionally.

So what is the trust level among your co-workers?  Are you doing things to build trust?

I’ve found the more you can have frank discussions, with the right intent, with the relevant people, trust is built. Talking about someone without their presence in the room will destroy trust not only with the person you’re talking about, but with those you’ve talked to! The people in the room now know that if you’ll talk about someone else behind their back, you could just as easily talk about them behind their back.

Be honest – Be vulnerable – Be real.

You’ll get more done in an hour meeting than you ever imagined! Trust Me!

Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter @MDuesterhoft or connect with her on email at