November 23, 2009
We tried an experiment last week at a Return Path Board meeting — and not just a regular Board meeting, but our once-a-year, full-day (~9 hour) annual planning session attended in person by all Board members, observers, and executives. First, a little background.
We have been driving two important trends over the years at our Board meetings:
1. Focusing on the future, not the past. In the early years of the business, our Board meetings were probably 75% “looking backwards” and 25% “looking forwards.” They were reporting meetings — reports which were largely in the hands of Board members before the meetings anyway. They were dull as all get out. This past meeting was probably 10% “looking backwards” and 90% “looking forwards” and much more interesting as a result.
2. Focusing on creating a more engaging dialog during the meeting by separating out “background reading” vs. “presentation materials.” We used to do a huge Powerpoint deck as both a handout the week before the meeting and as the in-meeting deck. Then we separated the two things so people weren’t bored by the Powerpoint. Then we started making the decks more fun and engaging and “zen.” This meeting took the trend to its logical conclusion, which was that we sent out a great set of comprehensive reading materials and reports ahead of the meeting, and then…
…we didn’t have a single Powerpoint slide to run the meeting. We thought that the best way to foster two-way dialog in the meeting was to change the paradigm away from a presentation — the whole concept of “management presenting to the Board” was what we were trying to change, not just what was on the wall. The result was fantastic. We had a very long meeting, but one where everyone — management and Board alike — was highly engaged. No blackberries or iPhones. Not too many yawns or walkabouts. It was literally the best Board meeting we’ve had in almost 10 years of existence, out of probably 75 or 80 total.
I’m not sure this would work for all companies at all stages at all times, and we had a handful of graphics “ready to go” in case we wanted to shoot something up on the wall, as we likely will always have. But I can’t say enough about how this evolution in meeting setup and execution changed the dynamic.