Interpersonal Dynamics in the Virtual Boardroom

Drexel University’s Gupta Governance Institute and Grant Thornton’s biweekly Nonprofit Directors Dialogue Miniseries features nonprofit leaders and board members as they share insights and strategies for turning today’s challenges into tomorrow’s successes.

What are the lessons learned from the tumultuous events of 2020 that nonprofits and their boards can carry forward into 2021 and 2022?

We have learned that there are a lot of things that we can do virtually and we’ve also learned that there are a lot of things we cannot do virtually. One of the things that I think we will see is a hybrid model, and that applies to both meetings and travel. What I mean by that is, where in the past we may have gathered five or six times a year in person, we may in the future meet in person three or four times, and then have two or three or four or five virtual meetings that will be meaningful, and well done with very high engagement.

One of the things that has been the most difficult to do in this pandemic environment and that I think needs to be focused on is the interpersonal relationships between the staff and the board members. I think most people listening can attest that a lot happens when you are grabbing a coffee with a fellow director before the meeting, or at night while you’re having a glass of wine down in the hotel bar, and you’re talking with the CEO, or you’re talking with the General Counsel. It is one of these things that is difficult to replicate in a in a virtual environment unless you really go out of your way. I have seen directors that have just reached out and said, “I know we have a virtual board meeting on Friday, so I’m calling you to catch up with you…,” the kind of conversation that we might otherwise have the night before the meeting at the hotel or something like that.

I think the people that are good communicators are continuing to be good communicators and have adopted new means of doing so. However, the ones that are a little more introverted, and in the past, might have stood in the corner at the board reception, are now invisible in this virtual environment. I think a lot of this falls to a board chair to make sure that everybody is heard and not just the people that are the most comfortable with the technology, or that are the most comfortable speaking out on a video call with 50 people.