7 ideas to revamp, energise the boardroom

By Kirk MacDonald

Pyrrhonian Partners

Toronto, Ontario, Canada


While serving as CEO for a major U.S. daily newspaper from 1999 to 2006, I was responsible for managing the development and agenda for 26 quarterly board meetings. Over the years, I also have participated as a member or a presenter at more than 100 other board meetings.

Board meetings are a rarely changing ritual to satisfy corporate governance. Many standard procedures are necessary, but I believe it’s time to create more engaging board meetings.

Shake things up in small ways to reinvigorate discussion and motivate participation during board meetings.
Shake things up in small ways to reinvigorate discussion and motivate participation during board meetings.

Small yet meaningful changes can make board meetings more effective and engaging:

  1. Set shorter terms, rotate chairs, and change the frequency of meetings.
  2. Change the board meeting format so it’s similar to an annual meeting to increase transparency and trust among employees and stakeholders — rather than private affairs. (Set ground rules up front for what remains private).
  3. Welcome all employees to attend your board meeting. (They also should commit to previously stated privacy ground rules.)
  4. Get the board out of the usual room. Conduct the meeting at a neutral site (e.g. an auditorium, theatre, conference room on a different floor, or any business-appropriate setting).
  5. I was always taught the “real” board meeting takes place at the board dinner the night before, which makes it a political affair (as opposed to collaborative). Instead, host a post-meeting get-together, which tends to be lighter and more personal, less formal, and more transparent, with conversation focusing on meeting highlights.
  6. Add an “organisational learning” component to your meetings to deepen board members’ knowledge. Examples might include:
    • Discuss the implications of machine learning and artificial intelligence.
    • Read or listen to and discuss a timely book, study or industry presentation (e.g. Michael Wolf’s Future of Tech and Media or Clayton Christensen and David Skok’s Mastering the Art of Disruptive Innovation in Journalism).
    • Talk about research and development, and analyse why it is such a big expense at leading companies with the highest valuations.
  7. Don’t be afraid to make changes to the standard agenda. An alternative agenda might look like this:

  • Motion to approve minutes from last board meeting. Second.
  • Chairperson opening remarks, including high-level overview of committee reports.
  • Financial overview.
  • Organisational learning presentation and discussion.
  • “State of” presentations about key areas such as: company culture, customers, tech and data, strategic plan and key initiatives (discuss what holds true or what needs to change based on new data), corporate development.
  • Chairperson closing remarks.

A quote that always stays with me is this: “All of us want to be part of something.” A re-imagined board meeting showcases that philosophy.

About Kirk MacDonald

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