Why Board Only Sessions Should Be Embraced, Not Feared
There is a school of thought that states that the only real job of the board is to determine whether to grant the CEO an extension of their tenure to the next meeting. In reality boards, and their board only sessions more often traverse the performance of the board and how it may better help the CEO and their executive team make the waka (ship) go faster.
Here are 3 areas of consideration to make board only time a productive part of your meeting:
1. Establish board only sessions as a standard agenda item
- A standard item allows the directors to test their understanding gleaned from board papers. This can provide clarity on [any] items that may have been unclear to directors individually or in collective.
- Improves the flow of the meeting and allows the Chair to best determine when to bring in certain directors on key topics where they have value to add.
- Allows certain items to be taken offline for Chair CEO follow up. This could occur where certain reports may not yet have met the mark and a subsequent considered conversation will be more productive than a full board exposition.
- The board only session should however not discourage board members (and the CEO) sharing information between meetings where timeliness is of the essence.
2. Communicate clearly and in a timely fashion
- A standard process is for the Chair to share the matters raised in board only time and to provide a head ups on when the points raised.
- The Chair often invites the CEO to comment on where it is most helpful within the meeting for the conversation to happen. The CEO may also be asked what is keeping them up at night? With a well-functioning board this is usually conducted in a highly supportive manner.
- A Chair CEO debrief is recommended post meeting. This is often conducted within the cycle of finalising the draft Minutes before they are circulated to the board members for their comment.
- Overall a “no surprises” or failing that an “early sharing” policy works best.
3. Agree when to lean in (and lean out)
- Strategy is an area where there are differing views on who is best to formulate the options and plan. Some boards like to firmly set the direction. Others are keen for management to lead. In others there is a blurring of the lines. However, in all occasions it is the board who approves it.
- Board members are selected based on specific skills and connections of value. This can be most helpful in early stage business competing on the global stage against better funded foes.
- Confident CEOs and Chairs encourage broader relationships to improve valuing creation. CEOs that encourage board exposure to management are likely to achieve richer results.
- The opportunity for a board member to meet with an executive member works best when it is at the invitation of the CEO and with the knowledge of the Chair.
Establishing and acting upon a high trust mode of operation between the board and the CEO if far more likely to determine success. And from board only time self-assured CEOs welcome the opportunity to hear an often more coherent message that is shared directly on a timely basis.
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