Board Meeting Lessons From The Supreme Court

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.

  • What works for me is turning my iPhone off and leaving it out of reach. The pull/desire to check then disappears. If I leave it on in my pocket I will always eventually have a look.

  • One of the things I learned playing Division-I sports was preparedness. Everyday for practice, we had to know the exact practice schedule and usually a motivational quote before we stepped on the field (or we did MORE sprints). We also watched film of our opponents to prepare for their offense/defense etc. When you do that kind of work, that preparation, you are far more ready to play on gameday.

    Not only does our startup enable teams to do this better by using the web, we try to practice what we preach internally. Being ready for meetings, knowing what we're discussing prior to and being able to participate fully.

    This is why I like Gist. I can quickly take a look at Gist and get up to speed on my contacts prior to meetings.

    Now put your phone away and get back to Defrag!

  • Mohan

    It would be interesting to know how much time was spent lobbying/discussing outside of the supreme court before that particular efficient session in the supreme court happened. I wouldn't be surprised if time spent outside of the session was high enough. In the tech world, where most businesses move at the speed of thought, that amount of "outside session time" may be a luxury. The key in my mind is to stick to entrepreneurial basics which is 'quick thinking' and ability to consume volumes of information quickly and get to the point.

    Yes – discipline within the meetings itself definitely helps 🙂

  • Hm, your last paragraph is timely — I'm in a conference session right now and paying attention to your blog rather than listening.

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  • It would be interesting to learn how judges manage their clerks and other support staff to facilitate their preparation for such a hearing.

  • Stephen Leahy

    Having sat in those meetings many times while the BB's are burning from use I appreciate the consideration….@steveleahy

  • The blackberry checking may literally be an addiction.

    The random arrival time of email and Twitter makes it more addictive:

  • So, some tip about this issue are welcome and really sorry if my question is very simple. Thanks in advance
    Thanks again for your help. Your site contain a many useful information.

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