Boardroom Diplomacy

6 months into the pandemic I heard an impressive social entrepreneur talk about persuading government to change tac.  One element that made it possible was the inclusivity of meeting virtually: “There’s no head of the table on Zoom” they said.

Fast forward another 8 months and, as we plan for a return to being able to meet in person, in larger numbers, many of us are also considering how we can build on the best of our virtual experiences.

Talking with another ‘changemaker’ last week, we got to some of our ‘blind spots’.

What if our habits in the board room (the status, the power, the rituals) are so deeply ingrained that we don’t notice how it gets in the way?

Which got me thinking about my first quote.

Yes there’s no head of the table on Zoom, but what about the seat next to it?  All the jockeying for position, to be able to pass notes, to give subtle messages with facial expressions.

On zoom, you’re at the same (advantage or disadvantage) as everyone else.  Stuck at the far end of the big oval table you can still see as much of the ‘speaker’ when you are virtual (even though they might be small).

Suddenly we’re aware of everyone in the room.  Yes it’s hard to follow any more than 6 people’s body language or messages at once (and there’s another issue about meeting behaviour), but at least there’s an opportunity to open up who we listen to and look at.

We might have missed the small side conversations that build deeper relationships over time.  But what if they simply ossify the power of the ‘Board Room’?

If you haven’t experienced the advantageous impact of bringing different sets of data to work on a problem, then this all might seem a bit of a side issue.  Data that is small scale,  human and qualitative alongside quantitative and large sets.  Data that comes from introverts, skeptics and people who just don’t sound like you.

But there is a large and growing body of organisational research, that demonstrates the value of these processes.  And the habits of the ‘Board Room’, in all its guises, that get in the way.

There is a point in trying to open up the way we meet to engage all those who enter.  Junior members of staff.  Community representatives.  Someone who cares, but is unsure whether what they have noticed really matters.

If ever there is a time to be interested in outlying data that forewarns of change, it is now.

You may be the leader who is still in charge of the Board.  Zoom hasn’t taken that power or responsibility away.  But you might just have noticed some of the voices you’ve heard, the engagement of your teams that has brought new insight into the decisions you need to make.

Keep hold of those moments as we all consider #hybridworking.  Let’s all of us plan – together – how that helps us tackle ‘where next’.