The art of innovating the board meeting

Between Robert’s Rules of Order and ‘the Code’, it rarely feels like there’s room to adapt and improve the effectiveness of board meetings. Most advice articles on boardroom efficiency tend to focus on pre-sent agendas and providing snacks (we'll gladly accept these), but what if there was a bigger way to shake things up? 

We’ve collated four alternative boardroom practices for you to try at your next board meeting.

Starting with silence

In 2018, Amazon’s chief executive Jeff Bezos proudly declared that Amazon has “the weirdest meeting culture you ever encountered”. A fitting opening to this collection of the strangest board practices that we’ve come across. 

Bezos goes on to say that every board meeting at the company starts with half an hour of silence. Having banned Powerpoint presentations, Bezos replaced them with lengthy memos that board members are encouraged to take the time to read in a ‘study hall’ like atmosphere. Staff are asked to write these memos in narrative form to make sure that everyone understands them. Once everyone has read the memo in its entirety, the discussions can begin. 

Easter eggs in the Board Pack

Similar to Bezos, former CEO of Xobni, John Bonforte, also did away with Powerpoint presentations in favour of a ‘magazine-style’ review of the company’s progress. Riffing off designs from Forbes and Fortune, Bonforte would include spotlights on new employees and top contributor features. Presenting the information in the style of a journalist, gave board members no excuse to read and engage with it.

Yet the best and most bizarre element of the Board Pack was the easter eggs that Bonforte would leave to make sure everyone had read it. I’d put a little something in there that said like, ‘If you read this, then you’ll know to wink at me during this part of the meeting,’ or ‘If you don’t ask me about this, I’ll know you didn’t see it.” In Bonforte’s eyes, if you hadn’t adequately prepared, there was no point in you even being present.

Changing the location

Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group, is one of a number of top business leaders who are in favour of getting out of the meeting room. To bring in fresh ideas and innovative thinking, group meetings with Richard Branson tend to be walking meetings, wherever possible. While we wonder whether this extends to board meetings, there is one company that has taken the change of location idea a step further…

Michael Gleason, Chairman and Founder of Consumer Brands LLC, takes advantage of working next to the beaches of Southern California. “Our board meetings have evolved into surfboard meetings, with flip-flops and no ties.” Creating a fun atmosphere at a board meeting helps bring that creative mindset to the agenda.

Granting transparency

A tactic by Netflix to educate their board in the range of issues facing the company. One or two board members join executive staff meetings and quarterly reviews on a rotating basis in an observational capacity only. The idea is to provide direct exposure to strategic decisions and show how topics discussed and resolved at the board level actually get put into action.

This promotion of transparency and total access to information vital to generating strategic insight encapsulates Netflix’s company culture. Giving confidence to the management when facing specific challenges. According to one director: “It’s hard to imagine we could have done it without the intimate knowledge of the operations and the people.”

Board meetings are only useful if they drive action and move things forward. These companies have innovated and discovered ways to create more value from their board. 

What tactics have you heard of to improve board meetings?