Hollywood idolizes the board meeting as a place where the most important decisions are made. But in my experience, the best ideas, feedback, and collaboration between board members happen outside of board rooms — in 1:1 meetings. These personal relationships lead to greater trust and collaboration down the line.
Invest in relationships for the right reasons
is derived from the Latin
which means “breaking bread together.” So it’s no surprise that personal relationships are part of the DNA of the best companies and boards. I’ve seen many styles and approaches to forming relationships, which typically fall into four categories:
I’ll do something for you, if you’ll do something for me.
I’ll do something for you, but I’m keeping track of what you owe me.
I’ll invest in this relationship, and I expect you to invest commensurately over time.
I’ll invest in this relationship because it is the right thing to do.
The strongest relationships I’ve built with other board members have been founded in approach #4. For example, in 2012 I wrote an
about my relationship with my friend and fellow board member Mark Pincus:
Some years ago, I formed a partnership with Mark Pincus (now Chairman of the game company Zynga) to buy a social networking patent called Six Degrees. About a year after that, I was presented with the extraordinary opportunity to invest in Facebook. My initial response, like that of any intelligent investor, was to make the entire investment personally. But on reflection, I realized that given my relationship with Mark, the right thing to do was to give him the option of taking half of it. Mark and I had no agreement to bring each other any investments. But because of our collaboration on Six Degrees, we were implicitly allied across our shared professional interest in social networking companies. I felt the only honorable thing I could possibly do in that circumstance was to present the opportunity to Mark.
I’ll admit, this wasn’t purely selfless; I was also aware that if I opted not to do so, the deal would create a conflict of interest that could threaten the relationship, as Mark’s interests and my interests in how to deploy the Six Degrees technology might sharply diverge. Mark’s interests could even become fundamentally different from my own, and that would make it difficult to continue working together.
In the end, I communicated to Facebook that we needed to split my portion of the investment with Mark. Yes, I knew that decision would cut the investment’s financial value in half for me, but I also knew the return on the investment of trust and mutual commitment would be infinitely more valuable in the long term. And it was. Later, when Mark formed Zynga, I invested and joined its board; we continue to work together in building huge companies, as deep allies.
Relationships like that don’t happen by accident. Too often, CEO’s take a passive approach or reactive approach to 1:1 meetings. In fact, I’m convinced that intentional and transparent 1:1 meetings are one of the best ways to build cohesion and collaboration within a board. I’ve also learned that the success of my meetings (and my relationships) are a function of my preparation and investment.
, CEO at Discord, proactively sets up 1:1 lunches or coffee meetups with each board member every ~6 weeks. This consistent meeting drumbeat not only strengthens the trust between Jason and his board, but it allows a more frequent exchange of feedback, ideas, and introductions.
A ritual for 1:1 meetings
This ritual was inspired by
and Raechel Timme’s
at Coda. The template starts with a partnership agreement that explicitly outlines the expectations of the partnership and lays the foundation for open communication.
Next, there’s a list of discussion topics that both parties can add to. It seems simple, but having a place to add topics before 1:1 meetings turns the meeting from a passive task to an active collaboration. This is so effective I even like to decide on discussion topics when I’m at
Finally, there’s a spot for meeting notes, including a sentiment tracker to capture how each person is feeling that day.
: Create a separate 1:1 doc with each board member that includes the template below. Fill out the partnership agreement, then track meeting topics and notes when you meet.
Purpose of our 1:1 meetings:
Relationship building, being on same team to drive results for X board, opening up further opportunities to partner, etc...
Let’s do our best to meet every [...]. If one of us has a conflict we will [reschedule, cancel].
Let’s aim to add items by [time] before the meeting OR Let’s plan to add agenda items before during the first X mins of the meeting
“Keep me accountable to X” or “Please call me out [in this way] if I do Y”
Before the meeting, each person adds topics to discuss in your 1:1 meeting. Then, check them off as you discuss them.