Do You BlackBerry In Board Meetings?

I accompanied Seth Levine, one of the Mobius guys I’m working with, to a Mobius VC portfolio company board meeting today. I always gobble up any opportunity to spend time with Seth, not just because he’s taught me (by example) everything I know about fashion and style, but mainly because he’s a charming and sharp person.

The board meeting covered familiar topics: How to execute marketing programs, what qualifies as a "lead," what product development projects to embark on, how to find good people, and so forth. There was a lively discussion.

But there was also a constant humming or tapping throughout the whole meeting — the sounds of thumbs tapping BlackBerries and fingers tapping laptop keyboards. I was astonished at how frequently board members in the room pulled out their PDA while other people were talking.

This is a big pet peeve of mine, mostly because BlackBerrying in a meeting while someone else is talking is the ultimate act of self-importance: My time is so valuable. It’s also plain rude: Many times in meetings I’ve turned to look someone in the eye only to find them pecking away on their PDA.

Today I wondered whether the CEO was going to say something. He didn’t. That’s probably appropriate. Groundrules should be set at the beginning. If none are, don’t create tension by calling someone out in the middle of the meeting. Seth told me afterwards that some of his companies have "No BlackBerry" policies, and some don’t.

This is my suggested guide: No BlackBerrying in a board meeting, but schedule a 5 minute break every hour to allow people to send email and check voicemail.

8 Responses to Do You BlackBerry In Board Meetings?

  1. David Cohen says:

    I’d never do it because I can’t do that and pay attention. If you’re gonna sit on a board, pay attention. The break idea is good, but I say one break at most in a 3 hour board meeting. Pee, check your email, then keep it all in your pocket.

  2. Peter Parkes says:

    Surely the point is to keep meetings to under an hour, let alone three. But no, you’re right; there’s nothing more distracting than people doing anything other than concentrating in a meeting.

  3. Jesse says:

    Or we could just…you know…re-approach business so connectivity isn’t such a huge necessity. I understand the demands on high-ranking business heads, but they’re the ones that are going to change this if anyone is.

  4. krishna says:

    Whenever you are in a packed Boardroom and unable to distinguish between the contender and the pretender, use this as a theme.

  5. Wendy says:

    If that many people are pecking away on Blackberries, I’d take it as a sign that they consider the content of the meeting irrelevant or redundant in some way.

    They’re either being told things they already know or that they believe they don’t need to know.

    Most exec-level meetings I’ve been in, when blackberries or cel phones buzz, the owner takes a quick look to see who it’s from and returns their attention to the meeting (or leaves the room to deal with it).

    Most successful people got to where they are by knowing when they need to pay attention — and knowing what they need to know.

    So a meeting in which few are paying attention to the meeting content, is likely a problem with the meeting, not the attendees.

  6. Phil says:

    I couldn’t agree more with Wendy. When I am in a meeting that is irrelevant or redundant, the blackberry is out. If the content or presenter has my attention, I listen.

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  8. Sophie says:

    I agree with what Wendy said in regards to meeting relevance…however at the same time I still think some people are almost addicted to their Blackberries regardless of the importance of what they may/may not be listening too.

    I also agree with Peter to keep meetings under an hour if possible. Studies have shown that people switch off from ‘active listening’ after about 50 minutes…and of course the 80/20 rule – that 20% of the time sheduled to a specific task yields 80% of the outcome. Much of the time we allocate to certain tasks is merely pointless waste.

    On the whole however, I think checking Blackberries constantly while in company is plain rude. I am lucky most of the people I associate with who own Blackberries are polite and considerate people, but I have been in the company of those I would term ‘obsessives’ and it is just wrong. Those people should definitely be restricted from Blackberry access!

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