What is the 'perfect' size for a board of directors? The debate has waxed and waned for years. Shareholders, nominating committees, researchers and boards themselves have asked a range of questions as they have tried to address the conundrum:
Answers to these questions have proved to be elusive. The reason? Context. Every situation that boards need to consider is, to some extent at least, unique. Consequently, a broad range of skills and expertise is needed in the boardroom, to address different issues that come up at different times. A configuration that works well for one situation may not work well elsewhere. Consider these vignettes:
These two cases demonstrate some of the typical challenges faced by small and large boards. While the best answer to the title question is 'it depends', a sweet spot does exist. Boards with between six and nine directors is about right—as Tracy Hickman reports—because board effectiveness seems to peak somewhere in this range. My research suggests bears this out. Boards with fewer than six directors have great dynamics and decisions are generally made quickly. However, small boards often struggle to deal with an array of strategic options, decisions and monitoring tasks. In contrast, group dynamics start to become unwieldy when the board size reaches double digits. Big boards are also expensive to run and the risk of passenger-directors increases markedly!
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Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and boardcraft; our place in the world; and other topics that catch my attention.