Modern technology makes it possible for geographically diverse boards to reduce board meeting travel time and expenses for their members. Information can be shared and decisions made remotely. However, boards have to think about how they use technology to avoid misusing it.
Discussion on material issues is an important element in effective decision making. This is the reason that many boards only permit board meetings at a distance if all the board members can hear each others’ comments throughout the meeting. In essence, such boards restrict long-distance board meetings to conference calls and Skype. Other boards require that every board members’ perspective must be able to be shared with others during the meeting. This expands the allowable technology to web-conferencing with dialogue boxes and to chat rooms. These approaches require real-time meetings where everyone is interacting simultaneously with the topic at hand.
Dialogue about how the board can meet is taking place in many organizations. Are in-person meetings essential? Are electronic meetings legal? Are they effective? When is each type of meeting appropriate?
We relate more fully with people when we can see and hear them and appreciate the environment in which they are operating. Therefore, face-to-face meetings will generally enable the development of deeper relationships and stronger trust. As Stephen M.R. Covey purports, in his best selling book, The Speed of Trust, when there is trust we can accomplish our work more effectively and with more speed. Most boards hold at least some meetings face-to-face so they can reap the benefits of board members being meaningfully acquainted with each other.
When board members are geographically close to each other, face-to-face meetings are generally the norm. This is ideal for regular board meetings and to address complex urgent issues. However, when board members just need to touch base to confirm that they are all on the same page or when travel time is considerable, electronic meetings may be preferable. Boards can practice stewardship of limited resources such as time and money and still engage all the board members in board decision making.
Electronic meetings could include diverse media such as teleconferencing, webconferencing, on-line chatting, email or fax decisions, etc. Before using these technologies for board decision-making check your bylaws and policies. Some organizations only consider face-to-face meetings to be official board meetings. (more…)