How to cope with boring board meetings

Don't look to your meetings as a source of entertainment, says Jeremy Bullmore.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 08 Jun 2017

I'm the youngest member of our board and am already sick to death of our monthly board meetings. They're long and dull and no one enjoys them; I spotted one colleague nodding off to sleep in the last one. I'd like to shake things up - any ideas?

Jeremy says: You'll probably treat this thought with derision - but it's just possible that some aspects of these board meetings, despite the monotony of their presentation, are actually significant and may even be critical. Remember that the proceedings of all board meetings are minuted, and the minutes distributed. Wily manipulators of board meetings are skilled at disguising highly controversial proposals in narcotic language in the hope that they'll slither through without detection. It's worth staying alert just in the hope of uncovering them.

And then there are always a few procedural necessities that have to be covered. They'll always be boring but there's little if anything you can do about them. If you're openly critical of everything, you'll lay yourself open to the charge of being an impulsive young upstart who probably didn't deserve a place on the board. Not a good beginning.

Much better to begin by making a single, positive suggestion. Boards habitually forget to remind themselves of those in the field who are doing the work and making the money; so propose that every month, a different small team be asked to present on a subject of current interest.

It might be a competitive problem, or the effect of Brexit, or the story of a successful competitive pitch. Such a contribution has a value in itself but has two side benefits. The presence of outsiders, even if only for part of the time, has a salutary effect on the demeanour of world-weary directors.

Nobody will find themselves nodding off. And each presentation will occupy a good half-hour. Which means that all those with regular slots will have to trim their timings. Which will be wholly to the good.

Such a proposal is unlikely to be denied - and could gradually lead to other improvements of both style and content. But don't look to your board meetings to provide wall-to-wall entertainment. That's not what they're for.

Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. Email him your problems at editorial@managementtoday.com. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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