What’s the Right Size for a Board?

A few governance consultant colleagues and I are experimenting with Blab. Blab is a terrific forum for group video broadcasting and live chat combined. On our last Blab, we had some discussion about board size. I made a comment about “doing the math” regarding board size and length of meetings. Most boards do not have enough time for everyone to participate fully. One of my colleagues challenged this comment because not all people want to talk on every topic. My simplistic example was not meant as a prescriptive way to determine board size. What I wanted to illustrate was the issue of being intentional about providing opportunities for gathering collective wisdom among a diverse group.

Larger representative boards can be effective. During the Blab, we discussed the problem of coordination and getting everyone together. A smaller group cuts down on the severity of the problem. Also, collective and diverse wisdom is a board member selection issue. What boards need to seek is diversity of thought and heterogeneity in board composition. However, diversity can yield to adverse affects if the group is too large, e.g., stalemate or lack of mutual trust among members.

“Rich information content must be balanced against the capacity to pool members’ varying types of expertise in an effective manner,” (Krause & Douglas, 2013, p. 147). Krause and Douglas also noted that smaller boards tend to cultivate rich information content by exploiting diverse sources of information. A larger board can be effective if there are ways to ameliorate the social uncertainty of large, diverse boards. That, too, was something we explored — using technology as a way to keep a larger group engaged and involved. We talked a bit how technology can also be a barrier to good dialogue and engagement. If you want to hear the whole thing, it’s here.

Reference

Krause, G. A., & Douglas, J. W. (2013). Organizational structure and the optimal design of policymaking panels: Evidence from consensus group commissions’ revenue forecasts in the American states. American Journal of Political Science, 57(1), 135-149. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5907.2012.00614.x

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