Brad Feld

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Board Meeting Lessons From The Supreme Court

Nov 11, 2009
Category Management

My amazing day at the Supreme Court continued to bounce around in the back of my mind all day yesterday.  I was at a board meeting for a company that I’ve been on the board of for almost a decade – it was the best (as in most productive) board meeting we’ve had in a long time. 

I’ve written about The Best Board Meetings in the past.  One element of the best board meetings is a prepared mind. This is the powerful lesson from the Supreme Court. On Monday (at the Supreme Court), I saw eleven very smart people participate in a very complex discussion that they were extremely prepared for.  In one hour they covered an amazing amount of ground.  I attribute this to the work they did in advance of the meeting.

In many board meetings, the material shows up at the meeting, or the board members haven’t read the material in advance, or the board material is not very detailed, or the board material is too detailed.  Basically, either the board members don’t have the material to have a prepared mind in advance of the meeting, or they don’t take the time to do the work to be prepared.

Then, unlike the Supreme Court session where you can dive into substance immediately, the board members and management spend a long portion of the meeting “getting up to speed”.  That’s a total waste of time for everyone in the room.

In my strong board meeting yesterday, everyone was prepared.  The board material was comprehensive, but not overly so.  It came in advance of the meeting (only 24 hours, but still enough time for everyone to read it).  And, rather than go through the material page by page, we picked a handful of key themes and discussed them.  For several hours.  In detail, but at a level that resulted in clarity for the board members and management.

The other key lesson from the Supreme Court is paying attention.  I’ve written about this also in VC Behavior in Board Meetings.  I continue to fall victim to the blackberry checking syndrome.  In the Supreme Court, phones, computers, and PDA’s weren’t allow.  So I paid attention.  And as a result I really followed what was going on and processed almost all of the information.  Even in yesterday’s board meeting I found myself drifting a little and pulling out my iPhone – bad Brad.  It detracted a little from the meeting (my fault), but most importantly it caused me to likely miss a few things I shouldn’t have missed.

I’m at Defrag all day today and am going to try to pay attention.