An ability to ask strong questions in board meetings is a critical director skill – and sometimes a terrifying reality for directors who are still learning about the organisation and its industry.
Putting a carefully considered question to management, in the right tone and balance, without dominating meetings, is an art that can take years to master.
In a recently released book for emerging directors, titled Eyes Wide Open, Robyn Weatherley AAICD provides advice for asking questions in board meetings. Weatherley was a founding member of the National Australia Bank’s Board Ready program.
Here are five tips:
- Take from the best
Study how other directors on the board ask questions. Consider how they are phrased, delivered and the level of detail.
- Lead in with an apology or caveat
Not every time, of course, but adding a briefly stated apology upfront can help frame awkward questions or those where the director is less confident.
- Consider how you would like the question to be pitched
Weatherley says new directors should analyse the board’s etiquette for asking questions, usually through the chair in well-run meetings. They might make eye contact with the chair or raise their hand slightly if they want to ask a question, to alert the chair.
- Focus on quality, not quantity
Some executives are irked when directors ask too many questions, or if the director is seen to be grandstanding. Weatherley says new directors should look for cues from more established directors and consider which questions can be asked outside the board meeting.
Also, consider the potential response. If it is a detail-heavy question that requires a complex response, can it be sent separately to management via the chair and shared with other directors? “You are not compelled to ask questions at every meeting, on every paper,” Weatherley writes. “Some of the best directors ask very few questions.”
- Consider the question tone
Never ask questions in a bombastic, domineering or difficult tone, or use the questions to undermine the credibility of the respondent or other directors, says Weatherley. Keep a calm, professional tone and respect the sanctity of the boardroom and importance of directors working together to help stakeholders.