Surviving your First Board Meeting

Advice for successfully getting to and through your first board meeting.

I’m sitting here at Adelaide Airport waiting to board a plane to Sydney for my first board meeting with a new board. As I read through the board pack and gather my thoughts I have been reflecting on the feelings that I have been experiencing in the lead up to this meeting.

You know, that feeling you had when you first started a new job? That uncomfortable and demoralising “I don’t know anything” feeling.

When you start on a board, and particularly through your first few meetings, it will become a very familiar feeling. You will wonder why these very smart people whom you share a board with voted you on in the first place.

Well, if I can give you one piece of reassurance, it’s that you are totally normal!

As I was reading through my board pack, attempting to digest the various reports from the senior managers within the organisation, and understand the plethora of foreign acronyms, I kept telling myself that it was OK not to know everything about what they were reporting on and referencing within the report.

Much like in a new job, I didn’t have the context of past history on issues, the individual, the department, or the industry on which they were reporting. Furthermore, because my background was not from this particular industry, I wasn’t familiar with the industry specific acronyms and vernacular that was used throughout the board reports.

Being quite familiar with this ‘lost’ feeling by now, I have learnt how to better deal with the feelings that come along with your first board meeting.

The number one thing to remember is don’t stress out. As you will for every board meeting, prepare as much as possible, be present during the meeting, and ask questions. Your fellow board members are more than happy to answer your ‘stupid’ questions (FYI – your questions are not stupid!) and provide the backstory on ongoing issues. All you have to do is ask.

Asking questions about what may seem like simple things also provides the board a great opportunity to evaluate why things are the way they are, and perhaps open an opportunity to explore new and better ways of doing things. So ask away!

Remember that nothing beats ‘on the job’ experience, and experience takes time. You cannot learn everything in one day and in one meeting. Be a sponge and take in as much information as possible. All of the pieces will eventually fall into place.

Undertake your own informal learning by reading as much information about the industry, marketplace, and organisation before the meeting as you can. This will help fast-track your learning and level of confidence within the boardroom.

Formal education – like the Get on Board program – can also increase your confidence and abilities in the boardroom. A program that works to increase your corporate governance, business, strategic, financial, and political acumen will help make your first few board meetings less overwhelming so that you can focus on the important issues on the table.

I know that you can never fully be rid of the uncomfortable new director feeling for those first few meetings; however, I hope the above ideas can help you to manage the awkward moments ahead.

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