Toxic Boards & What To Do About It

Organisations are complex entities, often reflecting the multifaceted nature of human interactions and the myriad of challenges that come with collective decision-making. At the heart of many organisations is the board of trustees, a group responsible for the overall governance and strategic direction. However, a toxic board of trustees can lead to significant organisational failure, particularly when there is a disconnect between the board and the delivery team. This blog explores the repercussions of such toxicity and mistrust, and how it undermines the capability of skilled delivery teams.

The Crux of Toxicity

A toxic board of trustees is characterised by a culture of scepticism, micromanagement, and an overarching lack of faith in the delivery team’s abilities. This toxicity manifests in various ways, from constant questioning of the team’s decisions to complete disregard for their professional opinions. It creates an environment where distrust is the norm, and where the delivery team’s expertise is undervalued.

The Delivery Team’s Plight

Imagine a scenario where you have a delivery team that is more skilled, more qualified, and more experienced than the trustees overseeing them. This team understands the nuances of the day-to-day operations and has the technical know-how to implement strategies effectively. Yet, their hands are tied by a board that does not trust them. This disconnect can lead to several issues:

  1. Stifled Innovation: When a team’s recommendations are consistently overruled or ignored, it stifles creativity and innovation. The team becomes reluctant to propose new ideas, knowing they will likely be dismissed.
  2. Decreased Morale: A lack of trust can demoralise even the most dedicated employees. Over time, this can lead to decreased productivity, a drop in quality, and a high turnover rate.
  3. Inefficient Decision-Making: Boards without the requisite knowledge that second-guess their delivery team can cause delays in decision-making, leading to missed opportunities and an inability to react swiftly to market changes.
  4. Risk Aversion: Boards that operate out of fear or lack of understanding may avoid taking calculated risks, which is often necessary for growth and adaptation.
  5. Reputational Damage: As word spreads about the toxic culture, it becomes harder to attract top talent, and the organisation’s reputation can suffer, which can have long-term effects on sustainability and success.

The Root Causes of Mistrust

So why would a board not trust a competent delivery team? Several factors contribute to this dysfunction:

  • Lack of Understanding: Trustees may not fully understand the complexities of the organisation’s operations and thus default to micromanagement.
  • Ego and Power Dynamics: Some trustees may feel the need to assert their authority or validate their position by challenging the delivery team.
  • Poor Communication: Without transparent and regular communication, misunderstandings can arise, leading to mistrust.
  • Previous Negative Experiences: Past failures or missteps by the delivery team can colour the perception of current trustees, even if the team’s composition has changed.

The Path to Recovery

Addressing the toxicity in the boardroom is essential for organisational health:

  • Education and Training: Trustees should be educated about the organisation’s work and the expertise of the delivery team.
  • Clear Roles and Responsibilities: Establishing clear demarcations between governance and management can prevent overreach (the big one).
  • Build Trust through Engagement: Involving trustees in aspects of delivery without overstepping can build understanding and trust.
  • Performance Metrics: Use objective metrics to assess the delivery team’s performance, creating a basis for trust in their abilities (KPIs, not micro-statistical data).
  • Open Communication Channels: Regular and structured communication between the board and the delivery team can bridge gaps in understanding.


When trustees do not trust their delivery team, they not only undermine the individuals within that team but also jeopardise the organisation’s future. Trust is a two-way street, requiring both the board and the delivery team to engage constructively and with mutual respect. Organisations must strive to build this trust to harness the full potential of their skilled professionals and navigate the path to success.

By addressing these issues head-on, organisations can turn toxic environments into thriving ones where the board and delivery team work in harmony for the greater good.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio