Research on Board Governance Examines Informal Dynamics Affecting Decisions that Impact Peoples' Lives

Joelena Leader

Vince Bruni-Bossio is the Director of the Edwards Experiential Learning Initiative (EELI), Grandey scholar and an Associate Professor of Management and Marketing at the Edwards School of Business. His research focuses on board strategies and decision-making on regional and corporate boards.

The big question driving Bruni-Bossio’s research is, “How do group norms and interactions affect how people make decisions?”

In contrast to the formal rules that guide decision-making, he explained that his interest is primarily on the, “informal aspects of that decision process such as the norms, behaviours and culture.” 

Bruni-Bossio’s research involves qualitative methods using interviews and focus groups to capture the informal aspects of governance.

His research spans from regional to organizational level governance. His work examines two main areas, including “how people create strategy and how boards actually do their job.”

According to Bruni-Bossio, his long-term work with groups and examining relationships throughout his career sparked his interest in this research area. He explained, “What got me interested was observing. Having worked with dozens of organizations, I naturally started to observe relationships and I wanted to understand it more.” He shared, “It is a passion – my whole career has been around working with people. All my work has been facilitating groups and people to make decisions.”

Bruni-Bossio’s fascination with group dynamics extends beyond his scholarly work. In his personal and professional life as a Martial Artist, he observed how the “relationships between people are informed by what is happening between them.” He said, “I’ve been focusing on relationships for most of my career and this is just a fine-tuned way of doing that.”

“I wanted to understand more about the informal elements of peoples’ decisions on boards and how this influences the outcomes. This is important because boards make big decisions that impact peoples’ lives.”

Bruni-Bossio’s excitement for research in this area has led him to pursue his PhD with a specific focus on board governance, and in turn, a career shift. He is shifting his study of board dynamics from an applied practitioner lens to toward a research-focused lens. He explained, “I wanted to understand more about the informal elements of peoples’ decisions on boards and how this influences the outcomes. This is important because boards make big decisions that impact peoples’ lives.”

Sharing his motivations for engaging in research, he said, “In practice, I noticed that there were certain patterns in the way people make decisions and some of those patterns have nothing to do with the formal rules around decision-making. It has more to do with the informal interactions between group members. I started to see patterns and first, I wanted to develop ways of helping people be more effective, which would be the practitioner tools I developed, but then I wanted to focus in on understanding why and how it worked. That’s when I really started to focus more on research.”

He has also collaborated with multiple faculty at the University of Saskatchewan including members from multiple departments at Edwards, Political Studies, Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, College of Education, and Indigenous Studies, as well as at universities across Canada.

Bruni-Bossio recently published an article on the undocumented economy in collaboration with colleague Dr. Lee Swanson, focusing on governance at the regional level that examined decisions made by communities in Northern Saskatchewan.

Despite the negative connotations associated with an informal economy, Bruni-Bossio and Swanson found that northern Saskatchewan communities are able to sustain themselves in positive ways through the undocumented components of their economies tied to their traditional lifestyles. He said, “These economies that have been viewed as nefarious or negative are, from a community perspective, serving not only a need, but they are righteous. They are a righteous economy, helping people grow and helping people develop skills. People are doing something positive and the community sees it as a positive thing.”

Commenting on the uniqueness of their approach, Bruni-Bossio said, “This is a unique way of looking at the northern economy. We focused on what is going on between people. What is happening? What is the benefit? What are the norms, culture, and dynamics?”

“...if we keep looking at economies with one brush, if we do not investigate informal dynamics and understand what is happening, we may be missing something important such as the undocumented economy."

Bruni-Bossio has also authored and co-authored a series of publications on board governance. One publication focuses on helping boards understand the business model of the organization, while another examines principals to guide the relationship between the board and management. A more recent publication highlights the importance of boards agreeing on a set of values when making decisions.

Discussing the social impact of his research, Bruni-Bossio highlights that, "at a regional level, if we keep looking at economies with one brush, if we do not investigate informal dynamics and understand what is happening, we may be missing something important such as the undocumented economy. At an organizational level we cannot assure performance by boards by applying generic policies. We have to look more deeply into how boards make decisions."

Bruni-Bossio’s interest in this area has also influenced his work in the classroom. For example, he collaborated with a colleague at the Edwards School of Business on a board governance simulation that engages students in role-playing, to learn through experience, and discusses the informal dynamics.

To learn more about Vince Bruni-Bossio’s work, check out his Profile Page!

RECENT PUBLICATION HIGHLIGHTS
The selected publications below focus on two streams of research: 1) governance, 2) strategy, and 3) experiential learning

Bruni-Bossio, V. (Accepted, 2018). Keeping boards in the loop: Getting directors the right information. Journal of Business Strategy.

Swanson, L. A., & Bruni-Bossio, V. (2018). A righteous undocumented economy. Journal of Business Ethics, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-018-3878-2.

Swanson, L., & Bruni-Bossio, V. (2017). The emergence and devolution of sustainable organizations. International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development (IJISD).

Willness, C.R., & Bruni-Bossio, V. (2017). The curriculum innovation canvas: A design thinking framework for the engaged educational entrepreneur. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 21, 134-164.

Bruni-Bossio, V., Story, D., & Garcea, J. (2016). Board governance in the nonprofit sector: Role-performance relationships of directors. The Innovation Journal: The Public Sector Innovation Journal, 21, article 3.

Bruni-Bossio, V., & Willness, C.R. (2016). The “Kobayashi-Maru” meeting: High fidelity experiential learning. Journal of Management Education, 40, 619-647.

Mansell, K., Bruneau-Bouchard, A., & Bruni-Bossio, V. (2016). An assessment of demand for a combined PharmD-MBA program at the University of Saskatchewan. Pharmacy, 4, 20; doi:10.3390/pharmacy4020020.

Bruni-Bossio, V., & Sheehan, N.T. (2013). Leveraging board expertise: Strategy mapping as teaching tool, Journal of Business Strategy, 34(4), 3-10.

Bruni-Bossio, V. (Accepted, 2017). Corporate board decision-making: Applying collective versus personal values. Journal of Business Strategy.

Bruni-Bossio, V., Sheehan, N., & Willness, C. R. (Accepted, 2017). Circle mapping your growth strategy. Business Horizons.

Sheehan, N.T., & Bruni-Bossio, V. (2015). Strategic value curve analysis: Diagnosing and improving customer value propositions, Business Horizons, 58, 317-324.


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