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Functional diversity – revisiting your meetings

Pinsent Masons

A few months ago, I talked about the Lexis review of ethnic diversity on UK boards, to which I'd been fortunate enough to contribute. This month, I have been thinking about functional diversity.

By that I mean looking deeply at the processes of governance practice, adjustments to which can both contribute to new practices and contribute to widening participation.

All of us, particularly in the governance arena, get into patterns of approaching meetings in repetitive ways. There are lots of perfectly rational reasons for this. Regulatory and legal requirements – and the consequences of getting it wrong – mean that people rely on the familiar in order to feel secure.

There's a reassuring feeling (but also a numbing effect) to repetition. Conducting board business in a cyclical way is familiar and reassuring in each of those senses – that nothing's been missed and that everyone knows what they're doing, as they did it last month.

But as disrupters in all industries, and perhaps most dramatically the events of the last year, have shown us, doing business in the usual way may not be the best way. We may – we will – miss chances to innovate. To fail and to learn. As the old saying goes familiarity breeds contempt.

Functional diversity is about re-considering how your processes work and how variety of approach might positively impact, however obliquely, on decisions made. For example, how could your meetings run differently?  Not just faster, or more regularly to time, or to get full contribution from all participants, but by way of a complete recalibration of the process in order to achieve more dynamic and equitable outcomes.  

And this is more than just adopting Zoom. It's about rediscovery, re-evaluation and reconstruction.  Let's stay with meetings as an example. 

Could you devote a meeting to a single issue to emphasise its importance and really dive deep, throwing the agenda out of the window?  What about unnumbered agendas?  Simply agree amongst those at the meeting which item you go to next, establishing priority as you go as part of the dialogue.

Could you reverse the agenda so that instead of starting with mechanical information, you begin with the most important issue of the day?  How about an agenda consisting solely of questions to be answered, as Steven Rogelberg suggests, designed to focus on solutions?

Might you try holding your meetings at different times not only to make them accessible to the widest number of people but just to mix up how participants react?  We are all different people in the morning compared to the evening.  When are you, as a group, feeling most creative?

Agenda and timetabling are just two examples of a number that we explore in a forthcoming publication for the ICSA West Midlands branch.  It's been fascinating to think about doing things differently which, at a time like this, feels more important than ever.

It also makes life much more interesting.

This blog provides a personal view only and is not intended to be, and should not be taken to be, legal advice or to represent the views of Pinsent Masons LLP.