Pre-Board Meeting One-on-Ones

One of the interesting dynamics around board meetings is the “pre-meeting one-on-one” a CEO has with each board member. Usually the week of the board meeting a CEO will check in with each director individually to feel them out.

Although it’s natural for the CEO to want to get early visibility on some of the issues that may come up in the meeting, ultimately this is a risky practice.

This is what usually happens: Board meeting is on Wednesday. CEO calls each director (say there are four directors) on Monday and has a 30 minute one-on-one with each. On Wednesday, the CEO repeats himself in the group setting, covering some of the same ground he went over in the pre-meeting one-on-ones. However, no director speaks up and says, “I know this already” because he thinks it’s new to everyone else. In fact, everyone heard it on Monday, and it takes 45 minutes in the actual board meeting to get into new issues.

In addition to wasting time, this dynamic can also produce an “over-managed” board meeting. I believe a key underpinning to successful meetings of any sort is drama / conflict. A CEO who, in advance of the board meeting, understands the political landscape and where each director stands on an issue, can easily run the meeting to mitigate dissent. Although this practice may make a nervous CEO feel better, it’s counterproductive in terms of the effectiveness of the board meeting.

Summation: If you’re a CEO, think hard before engaging your directors one-on-one for more than 10 minutes in advance of a board meeting.

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