For Maria Castuera Hidalgo, who also goes by the nickname Belen, attending IMD’s HPB program cemented her realization that a board is first and foremost a team. “This simple but very revealing concept, opened up a whole new perspective for me on how to participate in a board,” says Castuera, who is Chief Investment Officer at International Finance Corporation (IFC).

“When people talk about boards, they can sometimes see them just as a collection of individuals that come together for a moment in time and then go away. But during the program, we applied all our knowledge of teams to the dynamics of the board to show how this can make it high performing. This approach proved critical, and produced a more engaged team of people.”

The HPB program, which is one of the oldest programs of its type in the world, is aimed at board members who already have a lot of experience and want to refine their skills. It includes appearances by very senior guest speakers, top executives and chairman and assesses existing boards across the globe. By doing this, it builds on important and relevant topics such as innovation, entrepreneurship, digital disruption, and more.

Participants can therefore draw on real-world experiences and, by discussing them, open up ideas on best practices for boards, so that these can create the best value for shareholders.

One exercise involves a personality test of each board member. “The personality test that was offered was very interesting and I would like to see that applied to some of the boards I participate on”, says Castuera. “It helps you to map out the dynamic of the interactions between CEO, chairman and board, as well as the learning and engagement that happens between these groups.”

Another topic that particularly caught Castuera’s attention during the program was one that compared the effectiveness of the ‘defensive’ CEO versus the ‘learning’ CEO. “This was very interesting and has stayed with me,” she says.

For Castuera, key to the success of the program was also the high quality of fellow participants and high level of group discussions. “I was completely blown away by the diversity and high caliber of participants on the course and I was able to benefit from their exceptional academic backgrounds and tap into a unique combination of knowledge,” she says.

Although participants on the program might come across examples they have already experienced while on their own boards, they invariably come across examples that can be quite eye opening.

For Castuera, hearing other board members’ struggles to include sustainability on the board’s agenda drew her attention to this important topic. She also learned that there is a tendency for boards to move towards strategy and risk, and away from the more traditional view of compliance.

After a unique experience at IMD, Castuera has now taken this newly acquired knowledge back to her board. When asked whether she would recommend HPB to others, she says: “Do not hesitate to go on this program, it’s been a terrific experience.”