Creative Lives is a national organisation, working across the UK and the Republic of Ireland: our Trustees are geographically dispersed across the whole country and bringing them together for Board meetings has always been expensive and time-consuming.
For this reason, we have used remote communications for many years, but our quarterly Board meetings had always been face-to-face - until March 2020. With every meeting now online, we began to question whether there were better ways of doing this.
For a start, we quickly realised that no one wants to sit through a 3-hour Zoom meeting. Ordinarily, our Board meetings would allow time for travel and usually include a lunch to make it worthwhile to those travelling. But moving all our meetings online made it possible, and desirable, to have shorter, more frequent meetings, rather than trying to do everything in just one sitting.
From my experience, both as a Trustee and as a Chief Executive, Board meetings in many organisations have a tendency to be dominated by staff reporting to their Trustees. Long periods of our meetings just consisted of the Chief Executive talking endlessly. (I speak as the guilty culprit!). By moving from one mammoth quarterly catch up to several shorter sessions, we started to experiment in splitting the agenda to group all the necessary staff reporting in a separate Board Update - a short Zoom session which just consists of reports from staff. The other benefit of Zoom is that you can bring people into a meeting for five minutes without seeming incredibly rude, as it would be if they had travelled halfway across the country to get there. Therefore, you can bring a cast of colleagues from around the organisation, and indeed around the country, into the meeting briefly to report on their work.
Separating these Board Update sessions means that the Board meetings now have much more space for real discussion, thinking and planning. We have gone to great lengths in recent years to create a very diverse Board with lots of different experiences and ways of thinking. And it provides an opportunity for Board members to use that diversity of thinking to give us new ideas and innovation. This has become more possible with the online Board meeting.
The other factor that took us a while to understand is that while online meetings are naturally more accessible to many people who might have found it physically difficult to get to a meeting, Zoom creates its own accessibility challenges. Screen sharing, audio quality, accommodating sign language interpreters or subtitles all create additional challenges.
Our session during the Governance Now conference is a collaboration between Creative Lives and Taking Flight Theatre and we are going to look at ‘Reinventing the Board Meeting’ - using the move to online meetings necessitated by the pandemic to rethink our approach to governance meetings in order to encourage greater creativity, innovation and accessibility.