Good Governance: Hybrid Board Meetings Get Solidly Mixed Reviews

diverse board meeting with some people online and some in person
Lisa Hochgraf Photo
Senior Editor

3 minutes

But videoconferencing is here to stay—so what best practices can be learned?

During the first April session of the High Performing Board Digital Series, presenter Steve Morrissette surveyed course participants and found that 25% of them were holding board meetings entirely in person; a somewhat greater proportion was meeting entirely via videoconferencing; and about 40% were having hybrid meetings, with some directors in the room and other directors attending virtually.

Visiting professor of business administration with Chicago Booth, Morrissette said the same is true for the boards he serves on—most are using Zoom to meet; some are mixing it up. Morrissette said he prefers to meet all virtually or all in person rather than using a hybrid option.

“In my experience as a board member, ‘mix’ is the worst,” he said. “You’ve got some board members on Zoom. You’ve got some board members in the room. I have to admit I struggle with those meetings the most.”

What exactly does Morrissette struggle with when it comes to blended board meetings?

During hybrid meetings, “it feels a little bit like you end up with two classes of directors, those in the room who participate more heavily and those on Zoom who become observers of the board meeting,” Morrissette explained. “If we’re all on Zoom, it doesn’t feel that way. But … Zoom participants sometimes take a bit of a back-seat participation role and that could be because we’re doing our emails at the same time.

“No matter how good the software seems to be, the video conferencing system, you don’t see faces as well or (hear) audio as well when it’s a mix,” he continued. “If we’re all on Zoom, we can see each other’s faces and we can hear each other well.”

Even when the physical board room has a good video conferencing system with the right kinds of mics and cameras, “when I’m on Zoom, I still don’t get the same read of the people in the room as I do in person,” he said.

Morrisette noted that sometimes videoconferencing can become a crutch. “I will also say that in environments where we have gone hard line and said we will not do Zoom for board meetings, attendance has gone up.”

Pandemic Impact on Board Meetings

In the CUES video, “How the Pandemic Has Changed the Way Credit Unions Govern Themselves,” Michael Daigneault, CCD, underscored these ideas about the challenge of hybrid format board meetings.

“One major caveat ..., and that is ... be careful out there,” says Daigneault, co-founder/CEO of CUES strategic provider Quantum Governance. “A lot of folks have said, ‘Well, maybe … some of us will meet face-to-face, those that are most comfortable doing that, and some of us will remain remote.’

“One of our findings (in this report on the impact of COVID-19 and diversity, equity and inclusion on boards) is that that the hybrid nature of meeting is not going to work out very well for folks,” he continued. “And so, we urge people to very seriously consider either 1) everyone being face to face or 2) if that's not either appropriate or safe or the best way to do it for you all, everyone should be remote on Zoom, WebEx or some associated type of product.”

Participant Perspective: Keep Learning Best Practices

One of the participants in Morrissette’s High Performing Board Digital Series program offered that her credit union’s board was also doing a mix and that she was not entirely satisfied with the quality of interactions.

“But I believe Zoom meetings are here to stay,” this participant added. “It’s our responsibility as board members: We need to task our executives to develop the skill set necessary to engage people appropriately with Zoom meetings. To that end, I’ve been reading some books and experimenting with, when I’m chairing a committee, how to engage the people. It takes a conscious decision not to ignore the people out there on Zoom. It’s a new skill set. We need to develop it.”

The participant recommended the book Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust & Connection No Matter the Distance by Erica Dhawan.

Lisa Hochgraf is senior editor for CUES.

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