How to remove the friction from your board meetings

8 min read
May 30, 2023 9:35:10 AM

In a 2022 Deloitte survey of the Society for Corporate Governance, 50% of respondents reported changes in processes and practices that facilitated Board efficiencies. 

One of the first lasting changes that the pandemic prompted was at the level of Board meeting practices.

What is friction?

First and foremost, let’s have a look at what friction actually is. Friction is an inherent asymmetry within dynamics. In the context of Board meetings, it can take many shapes: from resistance and tension to conflicts that arise during discussions and decision-making processes. 

It can manifest in various ways, such as disagreement among Board members, lack of alignment on objectives, power struggles, poor communication, or an inefficient decision-making process. 

Why is friction an issue?

Friction can significantly impede the smooth functioning of a Board and hinder its ability to achieve optimal outcomes. It distracts from the discussions' mission, values and targets and misaligns the Board members from their collective purpose, affecting the overall balance. Maintaining a positive Board dynamic can be immensely challenging due to diverse perspectives, power dynamics, and competing interests.

Oftentimes, the pillars that ensure a frictionless Board function aren’t implemented because of a lack of awareness or understanding of the best Board practices, resistance to change and self-reflection, entrenched power dynamics, and the absence of effective communication and collaboration strategies.

What would a frictionless Board look like?

  1. Setting effective agendas
  2. Board engagement
  3. Effective communication: trust, transparency, open dialogue
  4. Diverse perspectives in decision-making, diversity across multiple dimensions
  5. Conflict management and prevention
  6. Use technology to your advantage 
Setting effective agendas

An effective agenda is crucial for taking the friction out of Board meetings. Create a plan of action that orders the most essential matters and puts them in order to guarantee that your conference progresses smoothly and meets its objectives. Consider using a template or checklist to help organise your thoughts and make sure all relevant topics are covered.

To create a productive environment during Board meetings, it's essential to prioritise key issues that need immediate attention. Start by identifying critical items related to company performance, legal compliance, or strategic planning. Then allocate sufficient time for each topic based on its importance, ensuring that discussions don't get sidetracked by less pressing matters.

Board engagement

Lisa CookLisa Cook, founder and managing director of Get On Board Australia, explains, “make people feel engaged. The more engaged people feel, the more they attend and contribute at the meeting.” 

High-value board engagement revolves around a shared commitment to the organisation’s mission and goals. It involves Board members bringing their diverse expertise, experiences, and perspectives to the table, actively contributing to discussions, asking critical questions, challenging assumptions, and offering valuable insights to drive the organisation forward.

The more engaged and actively dedicated a Board is, the less friction it will have to endure.

Induction also plays a vital role in fostering Board engagement by providing new members with the necessary knowledge, context, and connections to contribute meaningfully to board discussions and initiatives.

Steven BowmanSteven Bowman, managing director at Conscious Governance, states that “typically most induction programs unfortunately can be relatively static. There's not the continuous improvement that could potentially be incorporated. Now, many boards have said that they would like to, but it doesn't happen because there is no one person or Board Committee thatis actually in charge of the Induction Program This is one of the reasons for having a Board Governance committee, asit should be in charge of actually not only monitoring and ensuring the induction program is occurring, but also looking at the efficiency and the effectiveness of it over a couple of years with each of the directors going through it.”

For more insights in this particular area, watch our recorded webinar: What is board engagement and how to get more of it? for a deeper dive into methods of keeping your Board active and engaged provided by our expert panellists.

Effective communication: trust, transparency and open dialogue

One way to build trust in Board meetings is by encouraging open dialogue among all participants. 

This means allowing each member the opportunity to express their thoughts without fear of judgment. Creating an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust in Board meetings can lead to a more productive and innovative space, allowing each member to share their thoughts without hesitation or fear.

Giselle McLachlanGiselle McLachlan, Board Chair at AbacusBio and Managing Director at Grounded Governance, shares a practice with us from her experience that can cultivate better communication between members: “for the Board that I'm chairing at the moment, we have formal Board meetings every two months. But in between, so we stay connected, we have a one-hour online meeting called Director Connector. That is working really well to just stay connected with each other, not lose awareness of what's going on in other people's lives. There's no formal papers or anything like that. From a management perspective, we can use that time, if we need to, to make a decision or plant seeds of ideas for future meetings.”

She also emphasises the importance of getting to know the people you work with: “I would like to know more about this person who joins the Board. For this reason, I'd like to know more about them, and it's got some examples of topics. Family routes, siblings, places you have lived, the importance of relationships and even pets, introversion, extroversion or another personality trait, hobbies and passions outside of work, food-based things and an unusual life event." 

In addition, Board chairs must recognise individual communication styles and adapt accordingly to ensure that each member has an opportunity to contribute meaningfully during discussions without feeling overwhelmed or unheard. This can be achieved by identifying different communication preferences among members and adjusting discussion formats based on participants' needs. By encouraging a culture of transparent communication, Board members will feel more comfortable expressing opinions and concerns. 

This is exemplified as CEOs embrace Board involvement, with 77% of C-suite executives saying their Board should be more willing to challenge management; this fosters healthy dynamics and communication styles that ensure the free circulation of ideas and, most importantly, feedback. Taking a critical look at how to communicate efficiently, for example, by learning to give feedback in a timely manner, both positive and negative content, is important for conflict prevention. What this ultimately unlocks is a collaborative environment where conflict can be addressed constructively. In addition, fostering a sense of collective responsibility encourages members to prioritise a shared goal and mission and put any arising friction into perspective.


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Diverse perspectives in decision-making, diversity across multiple dimensions

A strong foundation of trust among Board members encourages better solutions with minimal unproductive friction. Foster respect by creating an atmosphere where diverse viewpoints are valued rather than dismissed outright, leading to rapid learning outcomes and uncovering new resources vital for organisational growth. Encourage diverse input by providing equal opportunities for collaboration among Board members with varying skills and expertise:

  • Create opportunities for collaboration: Encourage Board members with varying skill sets and areas of knowledge to work together on projects or initiatives within the organisation.
  • Promote inclusivity: Ensure that all voices are heard during discussions by giving equal weightage regardless of seniority or tenure on the Board.
  • Show appreciation: Acknowledge contributions made by individual members publicly at meetings or through written communications such as emails or newsletters.

Taking these steps will help create an inclusive culture within your Boardroom where every member feels valued and respected - ultimately leading towards more effective and frictionless Board meetings.

Graeme NahkiesWhat I'm seeing with Boards that are succeeding in actually getting a more diverse group around the board table,is that it does require a lot more attention to understanding each other and and where you're coming from.  I I've seen some boards really struggle with this because it is like they are recruiting for diversity, but it is only nominal and actually they expect the Board to keep operating the way it always has. The best thing is about change. It's about a wider range of perspectives and more challenge to everyone's thinking,” adds BoardWork’s Graeme Nahkies.

Conflict management and prevention 

Conflict is a natural part of decision-making processes in Board meetings, and acknowledging this fact helps Boards work within this framework effectively. To handle conflicts productively, it's essential to establish ground rules and foster an environment where open dialogue and respectful discussions are encouraged. 

In addition to being equipped with effective conflict resolution techniques, creating a structure that prevents conflict before it arises is essential. Setting clear expectations and individual accountabilities is one of the first steps. Cook points out how “Board members need to understand what they need to be doing, what's expected of them, and how. How do they deem that they're successful in their role and that they're doing a good job if they've got nothing to point back to”. In addition, it’s important to remember that communication styles vary, and a good Boards know and understand and acknowledge different types of communications and adapt to its members:

Ask your Board members how they work best. Do they need high touch, high communication, or do they just need the right tools and are left to their own devices? How do they work best when preparing for Board meetings? Do they need that information a whole week in advance? I always recommend that so they have time to read and digest and ponder and come up with the insights and the good questions you want them to be asking and bringing to the conversation in the Boardroom.” adds Cook. 

This practice, alongside regularly assessing the effectiveness of Board meetings and communication processes through soliciting feedback from members and making adjustments, will continually improve the dynamics of the meetings and reduce the potential for friction and conflict.

Use technology to your advantage

Understanding how the company is growing and modernising its technology, how it can keep up with the latest developments and how to make sure it captures growth opportunities to improve operations and processes is a key task for the Board. Board oversight in digital transformation is critical. Technology fosters strategic planning and can help Boards make decisions with more ease, as well as monitor performance and weigh out risks and opportunities.

In addition to managing emotions within Board meetings themselves, it's essential for all members - particularly chairs - to stay focused on key issues outside of these gatherings too. By doing so through consistent communication via email updates or shared documents like those found in platforms like BoardPro, distractions will be minimised while fostering a sense of unity and purpose among Board members.

Embrace technology to streamline your Board meeting process, making it easier for everyone to participate effectively. From video conferencing tools that enable remote participation to document-sharing platforms that keep all members informed, there are numerous ways technology can enhance your Board's efficiency in numerous ways. Make sure to utilise digital solutions like BoardPro to automate administrative tasks and simplify processes that could cause unnecessary friction.

Taking the friction out of Board meetings requires a combination of practical agenda setting, inclusive participation, constructive conflict management, establishing an open communication framework, and utilising technology to your advantage. 

By following these tips, Boards can conduct productive meetings that lead to better decision-making outcomes. If you're looking for a tool to streamline your Board processes further, check out BoardPro - an all-in-one software solution designed specifically for Boards!

Interested in exploring ways to reduce the friction in your board meetings?

Schedule a demo with our team today and begin to experience a whole new way of meeting.

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