On-Screen Meetings: Take Two

Independent Audit

MK: it’s a really useful article for running Board meetings in the Zoom-iverse. Article content: 70%, own content: 30%.

  • Virtual meetings have (among others) a deficiency of the Chair (and others) not being able to read the people’s emotions and an attempt to speak. In many Boards it’s OK to politely interrupt another person for clarifications, and the opportunity to do it in a polite way is almost completely lost in the virtual setting. The practice of the Chair asking each Director for an opinion is becoming more useful than before. The risk, of course, is that the Directors will start talking in separate (loosely related to the context) statements (i.e. monologues instead of a discussion), thus not contributing emotionally to the subject being discussed. Another thing to look at is the very-very usual dynamic [MK: particularly noticeable in loosely moderated Clubhouse chats] of someone dominating the conversation via energy, loud voice and the inability to shut up without external (i.e. the Chair’s) involvement.

  • A portion of the agenda must be an unstructured conversation. The more independent or geographically dispersed the Board is – the more value such conversations bring in lieu of the free-flow information exchange at Board dinners in the good old days. The Chair should provide a couple of slots for the conversations, which are not part of the formal agenda. This is not to say that such conversations need to wait until a quarterly (?) Board meeting: they can take place between individual Directors in a scheduled or unscheduled manner between the meetings. A good moderator (hopefully a Chair) can cause intense (and productive) debate to make people open up and provide an unorthodox view on the topic. MK: note to myself – find a way to become a better moderator.

  • Formalizing one-on-ones is an emotionally hard thing in the absence of “managing by walking around” or simply being able to call/message the CEO when needed (with due notice, of course). At the same time, a lot of information flow get broken down between Cx suite, Exec managers and the Board. The hard thing about such an approach is that goal-driven executives may (and will) treat such encounters as a waste of their time while they’re trying to get the business running. It’s a very gentle game of explaining to the execs that the purpose of getting an up-to-date information is not to challenge the management, but rather to ensure that there’s a consequence-free two-way of information flow. MK: This sounds quite shallow and it is, unfortunately, because very often in the times of crisis the job of the Board Directors is to let the management do their jobs without interruption. At the same time, if Cx suite can’t be reached, the CEO is the conduit of ideas between the Board and the management.

  • This can evolve into three-on-threes or a similar format: not all Board members are suited to discuss every single topic with the required depth, hence the need for the Board skill matrix, etc. It’s OK to focus on certain topics without the entire Board’s involvement (think of it as an impromptu committee) and report back to the Chair once a practical thought can be put on the agenda.

  • This may sound dead obvious, but … the first 10-15 minutes of every other Board meeting is spent on setting up video and audio. This is just a fact of life - even for tech companies. Investing into the tech infrastructure (mic, camera, light) is cheaper than a single business class flight.

  • The article makes an argument for teaching each Director video communication skills. It doesn’t mean that everyone should have a perfect video recording studio with a makeup artist, but a good setup and some effort at articulation can go a long way towards understanding. MK: I want to emphasize an uncomfortable point that people with lisp or poor articulation (despite being super-smart) have a harder time communicating their point across, leading to frustration and ineffective Board meetings. It’s not nice or politically correct, but effective Board members first and foremost must be self-aware.

  • MK: To me a very hard challenge is focusing on what’s going on the screen and not getting distracted by email, messengers, calls and other ways to speed up the time when it comes to verbal speech. Sadly, this is very common as, say, during live meetings I always walk around the table and can’t sit on a single spot and listen to people talking. Looking distracted (and being distracted) can be impolite and quite damaging to the meeting dynamic.