Crain’s Detroit Business, which is now devoting regular coverage to southeast Michigan’s Second Stage companies, recently carried an article about forming a Board. Having just formed my own Board of Advisors, let me make a few recommendations that I wasn’t able to make in my comments in the article.
Start with your current advisors. The best place to look for initial members of a Board of Advisors is the cadre of informal and formal advisors that you already have. Simply formalizing the process, and bringing the advisors together, is a substantial step forward, and adding new (unknown) people into the mix is just as likely to undermine the purpose as help it. In addition, you will likely have some trial and error as you develop the Board, and it will be helpful to work through that with people who already know and like you.
Work with the Board to define its purpose. There is usually a general sense of how and why the company leader would like to use a Board. However, a Board is going to be most active and valuable if its members are fully engaged – and to get that, it is best to have the Board discuss how they think they can contribute, and what they would like to get from the experience.
Let the Board stretch you. Good advisors provide perspective that you don’t have on your own, and are effective at helping you counter-balance your strengths and weaknesses. If you put a group of advisors in the same room, the message is often times stronger and even more challenging for you. Check your ego at the door, remember that even leaders have weaknesses, keep an open mind, and do your best to accept and use the advice.
Manage group dynamics. Just because your advisors are all good on their own doesn’t mean that they will work well together. The topic of group dynamics should be part of the Board discussion from the start, and you should openly acknowledge that the chemistry of the Board is going to be important. You should also include team-building events or discussions that will help develop the chemistry.
Prepare to improve. Establish with the Board that its role and mechanics are likely to evolve as you learn more about how it works and how to use it. Involve the members in the improvement process, and solicit (and use!) their input about how the Board can be more effective.