About face...to face...and choosing board members

Board Effectiveness

Two social media posts that arrived at similar times started me thinking about the diminishing occurrences of face-to-face meetings.

The first was from a friend, he posted a picture of himself and his lovely daughter on a chairlift at Tabletop Mountain. It was a great shot. I commented as much, adding a point in jest that his cameo appearance somewhat detracted from the scene. But I could see in each of their faces the joy they shared being together and connecting, a great father-daughter moment.

The other was a tweet by Harvard Business Review on how people spend their time during conference calls. 65% of respondents to the survey confessed to doing "other work", 63% said they did emails during conference calls, 55% were either eating or making food and almost half said they went to the toilet!


Is it any wonder sub-optimal outcomes arise from those groups, be they boards or executive teams, which meet mostly by phone or video conference?

From time to time, any director will be required to dial in to a board meeting. But some boards meet more by remote conferencing than they do in person. The reasons (excuses?) always have a ring of validity about them. Travel, better use of time, other commitments.

Wait, what? Other commitments? Sorry, I thought you were on this board as a commitment to making a difference to the beneficiaries of this organisation.

And the benefits of well-structured face-to-face meetings can be significant. We all know the benefits of brainstorming with our colleagues, seeing their body language, encouraging each other to share ideas that we might not express over the phone without the non-verbal feedback we get from being in a room together. Never mind the human need to build relationships and connect with people.

As the Global Financial Crisis was starting to hit in 2009, Forbes Insights undertook a study of 750 executives to understand their meeting and travel preferences. Respondents cited the need for face-to-face meetings when decision making processes were fluid and complex and said such meetings are best for the following key business activities:

Forbes Insights, 2009

“When web-, video- and teleconferences were preferred, it was generally for the dissemination of data or when time was of greater concern”.

As boards are a social dynamic, it is important to also recognise the importance of interaction either before or after board meetings. In our board performance work with directors we usually find that boards comprising interstate or international directors who fly in the day before the board meeting and join other directors for dinner have a stronger sense of collegiality and teamwork than those that fail to take the time to socialise.

But face-to-face meetings take time.

So, when choosing board members, it's usually worth considering the 3Cs:

  1. Clarity of board role;
  2. Capability of directors to deliver on the above;
  3. Capacity to do what needs to be done.

Assuming the board’s role is clear, directors are usually selected on their capabilities and capacity. This makes sense, but for those doing the selecting, do not overlook a prospective director’s willingness to make themselves available for a majority of face-to-face meetings through the year.

In other words, a fourth ‘c’: Commitment.

For more information, please feel free to email me at john.barrington@barrington.com.au.


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