Ask Alban: Re-inventing Boards that Bore

Q: Our board spends too much time reviewing and approving work that should be done by staff and committees. We know we shouldn’t micromanage, but we can’t seem to help it. How can we change?

A: You have a lot of company. Most boards criticize themselves for “micromanaging” and rightly so. This happens because tiny issues are more interesting and understandable than large ones, and more gratifying to address because they can often be solved quite quickly. Preference for micro-issues is so universal that C. Northcote Parkinson formulated it into one of his famous laws: “The time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum involved.”

What can be done? Boards slip into triviality for two main reasons: because they don’t know how to delegate and because they don’t know how else they would spend their time. A third reason is that some people are so used to boards that deal with trivia they don’t recognize the problem.
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