The Covid pandemic taught us that decision making didn’t always require face-to -face board and committee meetings.
Many have continued to have a mixture of virtual and face-to-face meetings because that makes effective use of board member and executive’s time. However there is a danger that the advantages of face-to-face meetings are overlooked:
- People have more opportunities to get to know each other and build personal connections and relationships
- People are expected to be more focussed and engaged and participate more actively
- Complex strategy and policy decisions can be debated more rigorously
- Emotional intelligence and the balance of opinion is easier to gauge in face to face meetings
- Casual conversations around the meeting can yield new insights and different perspectives
- Strongly held but opposing viewpoints are best addressed face to face.
Board and committee members need to recognise that they are very conflicted when asked whether they would prefer virtual or face-to-face meetings. The personal benefit of convenience and avoiding the hassle and cost of travel is huge and very tempting to accept. But the organisation’s best interest may be best served by having more face-to-face meetings.
It’s very easy to let the balance tip towards virtual meetings. Committees in particular have found it easier to deliver their more transactional and regulatory responsibilities through virtual meetings. Some never meet face to face, further reducing the time to build relationships between board members and executives.
However, sooner or later there will be a crisis or a tough decision which divides opinion. Then, the social capital that has been built through working face-to-face and the resulting high levels of trust and respect may be crucial to overcoming the challenges the organisation faces.