The Social Board...but not too Social By: Mark Rogers
In any business environment, it is worthwhile to get to know one’s colleagues “outside of work.” It provides a new perspective on the individuals you are working with and can help create a cohesive team approach to the work environment. This is also true of the boardroom setting. I believe that it is consistent with board of directors’ best practices for board members to get to know each other in a social setting — beyond the monthly board and committee meetings. The ability to socialize with other board members and really get to know them can have tremendous benefits in the boardroom. Although there is a danger of being “too social,” the benefits from socializing far outweigh the risks.
Most boards struggle with how to create a “social board” beyond the annual holiday party every December. Each board and its officers have their own approach, but nevertheless, here are several helpful suggestions:
- Organize an outing to a local sporting event: You don’t have to pay for a box at an NBA or MLB game, but this event takes the board away from the setting in which they are likely to just talk business;
- Cocktail hour: Have an established day each month for the board to meet after work for a drink. Certainly not every board member is going to be able to make it each month, but for those who attend, it provides an opportunity to get to know each other outside of the boardroom;
- Coffee hour: Many boards have their meetings early in the morning to allow their members to proceed to their “day job” after the board meeting concludes. Even with the early start of these meeting (typically, 7:30 a.m.), most boards would be pleasantly surprised by the number of board members who would show up early if there was a coffee hour that preceded the meeting.
- Traveling Boards: For many boards, particularly in the public company setting, the board members may be traveling to the meeting from different parts of the country. In such circumstances, it is worthwhile to arrange for a board dinner the night before the board meeting or perhaps a breakfast the morning of the meeting.
Some boards advocate an annual trip each year where team building is the focus (e.g. Outward Bound). I think this is great for boards, but I feel that most board members simply do not have the time to participate in such an excursion, nor does it fall within their board of directors’ job description. Also, for non-profit boards, I am always concerned about the costs associated with such outings – in my opinion, the money is often better spent on the mission of the organization.
Both employers and boards struggle with the potential negative effects of the social setting carrying over into the work environment. For boards this can mean the development of potential cliques between members of the board that can translate into voting blocs. I have seen first-hand how such voting blocs can negatively impact a board of directors. Although in many respects it is difficult to prevent voting blocs from developing, one approach that may help to curb board member collaboration during a meeting is to have name-plates for each board member and place them around the boardroom table before the board arrives for the meeting – and of course, make sure that the seat assignments are different at each meeting.
So take the time to get to know your fellow board members and be social… just not too social.