Here’s some advice for all those boards out there seeking to shake things up by adding diversity to the board room. Diverse directors have different communication styles, cadences, and thought processes; and won’t be able to contribute a diversity of thought if they are expected to fit in. When adding diversity, don’t expect the new directors to be able to jump right into old dynamics and bring maximum value to the organization.
- Slow down the pace. Longer-tenured directors should ask others what they think and pause before speaking to leave room for the newer folks to speak up. Check in with quieter directors after the meetings to ensure they can chime in when they want to speak.
- Facilitate. Board Chairs should expect to change their facilitation techniques to embrace all of the communication styles in the room. Change the dialog by going around the room or asking the newer directors to contribute first.
- Adjust the agenda. Leave more space on the agenda for dialog. Leave an open strategy discussion topic on our board agenda to ask the directors what’s on their minds and have a conversation about what hasn’t been talked about that maybe should be.
- Change the Management Presentations. Gone are the days when management spends 80-90% of their time presenting to the board. Some Board Chairs I know don’t allow management to present more than two slides, even if there are 20 in their deck. The rest of the “presentation time” is for questions and discussion.
- Change director expectations. Just as the management needs to change how they present to the board, the directors must adjust their preparation before the board meeting. Directors should come to each board meeting with a shapable perspective on each agenda topic and a good dose of curiosity about what others think. Directors must be prepared to jump into each agenda topic with minimal stage setting.
- Seek curiosity. One of the most valuable attributes of an excellent board is curiosity. Directors should ask more questions about each other and management than stating facts or opinions. It’s the best way to build on the power of the collective.
- Move more to the committees. As the agenda changes to allow more room for discussion, boards should ensure that they have the appropriate committees and comprehensive charters to cover pertinent topics on a deeper level in committees and report back to the board. Pushing work to the committees is one of the best ways to make more room on the board agenda for full board discussions.
- Implement board evaluations. Engage a third-party firm to conduct a thorough board evaluation, learn how to improve board dynamics, and understand what is working and what needs to be adjusted. Ensure that all feedback is captured and tracked in an action item list.
Although boards should be constantly refreshed, both from a composition perspective and governance, governance excellence is a journey that all boards should take. Remember that even executing this simple list can take years to implement fully, but the rewards are great.