Of all the leadership responsibilities impacted by the pandemic, none may experience as difficult an adjustment as corporate boards. They must deal with the change to completely virtual board meetings while also making sure the company is stable and poised for success during a difficult and unpredictable future.
Surprisingly, some organizations have found that pivoting to virtual board meetings is better than in-person meetings. Without the need for travel, attendance is increasing. Agendas are tighter, presentations are more dialed-in, and collaboration is improved. According to Jim Citrin, head of Spencer Stuart’s North American CEO practice, “I’ve had a handful of CEOs and board chairs specifically tell me, ‘We’re not going back to the way it was. We see tremendous benefit to doing it this way.”
Even hiring for C-suite roles has improved for some companies. Ebay had to switch to online for their CEO search. Chairman Tom Tierney said, “When we went virtual, I was initially nervous about whether we could both assess the candidates accurately and build the rapport that is so critical in selecting a CEO and setting him or her up for success. But by the end of the process, the advantages were clear. We were all able to truly focus on the candidates and get to know them and as a committee and board, we quickly became very comfortable to the format and I believe our teamwork shined through.”
With virtual board meetings here to stay, HBR put together a list of emerging best practices to make them work for you and your organization.
With file sharing and chat now a part of everyday remote working, these tools can also facilitate conversations and feedback prior to the meeting. Whether one-to-one or with the group as a whole, this type of pre-work keeps meetings focused, short, and can deliver better insights.
Shorten and Energize the Agenda
Trim the fat to keep everyone’s attention. Virtual meetings are at their best when they move along at a good pace. Issues that are not critical can be tabled to a later date (when they may be more relevant). Eliminate long winded powerpoints and consider short breaks.
Spread Session Over a Week or Two
For longer strategy sessions or off-sites, break the meeting up into sessions that cover specific topics over 90 minutes or two-hours. Consider how topics may build on each other, as the time between meetings allows for ideas to “stew” and brings elevated thinking to the next meeting.
This may sound difficult, as comfort is often built during coffee breaks or group dinners. There are exercises that can be done to build trust remotely. Set aside the beginning of each meeting for everyone to safely discuss topics that are challenging personally or professionally.
Use Breakout Room Productively
Breakout rooms allow for more candor and freedom to test or challenge ideas presented with the entire group. Keep the breakout groups small, and limit the time to 20 or so minutes. This also allows for people who may not be heard in the large group to share openly.
Build in Candor Breaks
If you can’t build in breakouts, candor breaks are a way to invite feedback and input. Since you can’t “read the room” virtually, these are important to gauge the temperature of the group and make sure that there isn’t something being overlooked or not said.
Replicate the Dinner Experience
Again, recreating the conversations at dinner is difficult. The idea is to create one-on-one chats for 20 minutes. This allows board members to have informal yet focused discussions with executive team members.
Bring in Guest Stars
The ease of virtual board meetings is an opportunity to tap into your networks and bring in experts from anywhere to provide their insights and ideas. This drives diversity of thought and keeps the board engaged.
If you have questions about improving virtual board meetings for your organization or need help with your next board recruitment, let us know, and one of our recruiters will respond right away.