Board meetings are boring say bosses

Thought Leaders thinking

Thought Leaders thinking

There was an excellent article in the HBR by a Jaques Neatby who is a consultant. This does not mean that we should automatically ignore his musings as self promotion or a pitch for new business as that would be most unfair. Many I.M.M. members have been consultants in between management roles, its so much better than saying one is unemployed and in many cases, unemployable.

Jaques explains that many Senior Managers think that  executive team meetings are “a waste of time,” “boring,” “serial one-on-ones with the CEO,” and a place where “decisions are avoided — not made.”

and this he explains is for three reasons:

Reason #1: No one really wants to make decisions in meetings.

Reason #2: No one really wants to facilitate.

Reason #3: The CEO doesn’t really want a structured agenda.

Now you can see why this man is a consultant. Talk about stealing your watch and then telling you the time. Can you imagine any of us who have the honour and experience to call ourselves ‘Thought Leaders’ ever engaging in decision making, facilitation or god forbid meandering through a ‘structured agenda’, whatever that is.

Anyway if you have time please read his polemic, it’s a perfect riposte to any underling that has the temerity to ask people like us to say Yes or No to one of their time consuming projects or initiatives. Our time is more valuable than that as we use these meetings to fight to hold onto our empires, suck up to our wonderful CEOs and find ways to reduce costs in order to boost our bonuses.

Here is his article: Why Excom Meetings Are the Wrong Place to Make Decisions

Reason #1: No one really wants to make decisions in meetings.

 Ask executives what their meetings are for and a typical answer is “to make decisions.” But as all executives know, decisions rarely get made during meetings. Why? Despite what they say, most executives actually don’t want decisions made during meetings. Sure, they want to participate in decisions that affect colleagues or the business, but if the decision affects them, the last thing they want is a debate where their voice is just one amongst many. Better to push the debate off the agenda so they can later present their case to the CEO one-on-one.

 For their part, CEOs are more than happy when decisions get pushed off the agenda because they don’t like being pressured into decision-making in a meeting. Imagine you have to decide whether to acquire a company or to lay off employees. Such decisions take time and it is difficult to predict the precise moment they are ripe to be made.

 So when the agenda states that an item requires decision-making (as best practices would have it), CEOs run the risk of appearing indecisive if they judge it’s not time to pull the trigger. Plus, even if it is time to make a tough call, it is not always wise for the CEO to make his or her decision known on the spot if team members have just expressed a different view. While most CEOs have the authority to publicly “overrule” their team members, it is not something they do lightly or without preparation. Authority is like money in a bank account: it is best not to make unnecessary withdrawals.

 Reason #2: No one really wants to facilitate.

 Given the vague wording of agenda items (e.g. “project update” or “round-the-table”), I have often observed an executive team discussion run for 20 minutes or more when suddenly one member will interrupt another and say “But that’s not the topic we’re discussing!” An interminable debate then ensues about what the “real” topic is or should be. Another common occurrence is participants who wander off topic.

 In theory, you would mitigate both problems by nominating an executive to act as a facilitator, which is why it is proposed as a best practice. But few executives want the job because there is no upside: intervene and you run the very real risk of offending a colleague whose support you need or, worse, your boss who is more often than not the source of the problem. Keep quiet and, at worse, you sit through another boring meeting and possibly catch up on your e-mails. This is not to say that executives won’t intervene when there is a critical issue. But a discussion that wanders off track doesn’t qualify. Such non-interventionism does not demonstrate a lack of courage, as some (mostly non-executives) would claim, but rather results from a rational cost-benefit analysis.

 Reason #3: The CEO doesn’t really want a structured agenda.

 Selecting agenda items that concern all team members is another best practice whose fit with executive team reality is questionable. The expression “team meeting” makes some lose sight of the fact that many CEOs consider it their meeting first and foremost.

 It is a critical moment for CEOs because, as one executive once put it to me, “the CEO is the most manipulated person in the organization.” He was reacting to the myth that CEOs, perched as they are atop the organization, see and know everything. Research and experience tell a very different story: CEOs actually find it difficult to obtain the information they need. They must seek it proactively but when they do in one-on-ones with their executives, the latter don’t always tell the whole story fearing their boss will stick their nose too far into their business.

 Team meetings fill the void because their characteristic lack of structure allows issues to surface that might not otherwise. Furthermore, a CEO is more likely to get a complete picture of those issues with the entire team on hand than sitting with a lone team member. Thus CEOs are not fond of tightly structured agendas, particularly ones that seek to involve all members, as these prevent them from probing issues they alone may see as critical. If that entails a bit of boredom for team members, so be it.

Source: Original article written by in Harvard Business Review: Jacques Neatby

2 thoughts on “Board meetings are boring say bosses

  1. I think you are being unfair to these meetings. They foster relationships. Ever since I stopped working for a big corporation, I have lost touch with many of my friends. Without meetings to attend, I just don’t have the time to forward jokes and send WhatsApp messages to old friends.


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