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Italians have a point

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It is embarrassing to Australia that the Italian Textile Association has taken the extraordinary step of formally expressing its disappointment about the recent visit to Biella, Italy, of three directors from the Australian Wool Innovation Board.

The association raised a number of concerns. They felt the informal delegation didn't express official AWI thinking; they were embarrassed and disappointed at seeing people involved in clear conflicts of interest; they were surprised and upset by the lack of knowledge and extreme insensitivity to the mulesing issue, and the lack of communication about an upcoming advertising campaign.

One of the fundamental tasks for directors on boards is that they take an independent, helicopter view of the operations of the entity they are managing. They need to ask the right and the hard questions. AWI directors are too busy being "on the ground" trying to direct operations rather than being independent from them.

It is quite clear that by being involved in determining marketing strategy the directors are not fulfilling their role, or allowing the board to carry out its role.

Directors must be the critic and conscience of the organisation. Once they start to get directly involved in the operations, they have lost that independence. In this case, the ongoing confusion about roles has created dissension and now dysfunction.

This situation is not new. Boards, including those of sport organisations, face the same challenges but they can he resolved.

Research has shown that what is required is for all to stand back, for the roles and responsibilities of the board to be reassessed and the rules of operation established.

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