Over the decades, Luke Johnson has attended hundreds of board meetings; “I’m still not sure what all the afternoons stuck in airless rooms have accomplished.” In his recent article in the Financial Times he shares three tips for chairmen for more productive sessions:
Keep numbers down to a handful
Once they reach 20, any gathering “is almost impossible to conduct in a productive way”. The best meetings have just four or five participants. “The mood is more informal, the structure flexible, the atmosphere less political.” And there’s nowhere to hide. “It reminds me of the rigour of the tutorial system of teaching at Oxford.”
Keep the mood balanced
Board meetings tend to swing “between the mundane and high drama”. Challenging people is fine, but when it descends into frequent disputes requiring a show of hands, “you can be sure the board is highly dysfunctional”. The worst rows happen when the chair and chief executive are at war.
Keep it snappy
Ideally a meeting should last no more than two hours. That way you focus on the imperatives and weed out “obsessives” who focus on one topic excessively. “Boards should never get into minutiae or bother with fluff – they need to concentrate on the significant stuff.”