Show all posts
5 years ago

Soap, Laundry and Company Boards

I'd like to write more about meetings today. It's not a series of posts (officially), but looks like it's evolving as one, since I'm picking up on my earlier posts on how to reduce the toxicity of meetings and how Skype works as on organic supplement for knowledge sharing  in our company.

On top of the usual UX meetings and dev kick-start meetings, we've introduced a new kind of meetings recently. The company board meetings. We're just in this phase of growth when it's about time to try boards for decision making.  At the moment, we've got the Product/UX Board, the Development Board and Marketing Board.  The founders/stakeholders board (the Head Board) has been in action for several years by now; this board is responsible for taking decisions about the company policy, some strategic visions, etc. It's those 3 new boards we've started just now. The boards, usually 5-7 people, work by a simple 5-2 vote (or a 4-1).  The board members are of a mixed background: marketers and developers are sitting in the Product/UX board along with the UX people and feature owners (check who the feature owners are); developers and designers mingle with marketers in the Marketing Board. The good sign that confirms the integrity and the common shared vision of our team is that it rarely gets down to any other than 5-2 split-up of the votes. If it's 4-3 or 3-4, this usually means that the subject requires more discussion, as some essential details might have been left out.

We've started the boards for several reasons. One of them is to be able to come up with unbiased visions. As a marketer, you tend to focus on the marketing things alone, so if developers infuse some of their blood into the veins of marketers, or if the UX people get involved in the decisions related to marketing — it's good. From my experience, a more common case is when things are seen rather from the dev perspective, and developers need to be educated in marketing.

I've been at some of those board meetings but for the moment I prefer to keep a certain stance of cross-boardability. I try to make my point to people who sit in the board meetings, but I stay away from being too deeply immersed in the activities of any particular board. Why so? I have noticed one interesting trend. The boards start wearing out once they get into action (check the header image). It's about the same, the more you rub the board washing your laundry, the more soap foam is generated, blurring the clarity of your vision. Well, this does not necessarily mean that the laundry will come out dirty, rather the other way round. But the laundry lady needs to clean the board from the used-up soap foam to be able to see if the laundry is clean. Not sure if someone actually does laundry this way — we've got washing machines after all — but, well, there's no machine for the board's decision-making, that's why I've applied the soap-and-washboard metaphor here.

The intent behind creating our boards has been exactly that: to keep the vision fresh and clear, and consider things from all possible perspectives. Looks like some rotation is needed to maintain the freshness, and might be it has to be done more frequently than we supposed at first. Or, a fresh quick look from someone who is not a board member, but a keen observer could be helpful. If you're not rinsing off the old soap foam, your vision will lack clarity and perspective, not to mention the notorious brain drain which would then creep in and poison your board meeting .  Perhaps, we need to come out with more sophisticated rotation patterns. Or, perhaps at some point, we might need to merge the UX/Product Board and the Dev Board into one Production Board. Or, make it Marketing Board + Product Board and UX Board+Dev Board. We keep looking and trying.

P.S. Happy 8th of March, ladies 🙂

Related articles:

Competent Decision-Making and Rusty Tinman

Meetings Are...

Dissecting Dysfunctional Meetings

Meetings: The PGP Conjunction


  • Stephan Zimmermann

    Hi Olga,

    an interesting post and a good method to improve your product and to bring people together.

    We recently also started a new approach to get more or all of our colleagues into decision making.

    We are running a “Dev Board” (called it “Development Steering Committee Meeting”) for about 2 years. This board consists of senior developers and our CEO. In the course of time we made a lot of decision within this group, not only dev related things. We lacked a certain grade of transparency and openess. Colleagues outside this circle felt a little bit annoyed from time to time. So we explicitly invited everybody to join us or to push topics into the board and put more effort into documentation and communication.

    Lately we decided to involve everybody into strategic decision making. Therefore we gathered topics that people consider strategic and urgently improvable. We had a “World Cafe” session for a half day with the whole company which let to interesting insides and a huge room for improvement. By now we are busy to work in smaller groups to improve the top most issues.

    Whenever I reflect on where we are now and how we worked a couple of years before I’m positively surprised. I definetly wouldn’t go back in time. I guess it’s the same with you guys.


  • indigo777

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Stephan. I’m so glad you found this post interesting 😉

  • Anna Chamberland

    I’d like to see this applied to our federal government system, in particular our congressional leaders.
    As I see it, board members stay as members to build their influence and power – sometimes inappropriately. I could see how this would work – clarity of achieving mission, vision and values with fresh eyes. It’s a matter of getting the whole to apply, I think a challenge would be buy-in for some companies/organizations to develop that “no fear” of change.
    I may share this thought with some colleagues for their thoughts. Thanks for the article and idea generation!

  • indigo777

    Anna, thanks a lot for the feedback. My other post called “Competent Decision-Making and Rusty Tinman” might also be of interest to you: