The Roles of a Board’s ‘Dream Team’

If you remember the NBA’s original Dream Team, your memories are probably defined by a brilliantly assembled squad that included a triumvirate of the sport’s all-time greats — Magic, Larry, and Michael.

But the truly incredible thing about that Dream Team wasn’t that it won the gold medal at the 1992 Summer Olympics. Instead, it was that a team stocked full of future Hall-of-Famers somehow worked fluidly and harmoniously to achieve a common goal.

As most entrepreneurs and investors know, that kind of alignment isn’t exactly easy to achieve when you assemble a team with superstar talent — a fact that’s particularly true for a company’s board of directors. All too often, individual goals, egos, ambitions, and aspirations get in the way of what is collectively best for the organization or team.

In my experience, however, building board of directors dream team is as simple as identifying both the skills you have and the ones you need, and recruiting board members who will be able to cohesively work toward a shared vision. Doing so means making sure that you have the right kind of board members on your team.

With that in mind, here are seven specific board personas that growing companies must have if they hope to build a winning board of directors:

1) The Head of the Audit and Compensation Committee
This person should have previous financial experience (e.g., as a former CFO or public auditor), and must be able to work with the CEO, CFO, and other board members to ensure the financial and legal well-being of the business.

2) The Ying to the CEO’s Yang
This role is typically filled by a board member who is complimentary, in some way, to the CEO. For instance, if the company’s CEO has a sales background, this person might possess a stronger product development or customer experience background.

3) The Personification of the Company’s Target Market
Frequently filled by an independent board member, this person should possess a keen understanding of the company’s target market. He or she often boasts a strong network of target buyers, and can monitor the pulse of — and trends in — your market.

4) The CEO Advisor and Mentor
While the previous three roles were more externally focused, this one has much more to do with to the CEO’s skillset gaps. The CEO advisor and mentor should be a retired CEO who has guided a company through the expansion stage and can provide the company’s CEO with relevant insight, expertise, and feedback, particularly as the business begins to scale.

5) The Exit Strategist
While company executives focus on scaling the business, someone needs to begin to think about the company’s strategic direction, economic model, and exit plan. If a company has accepted outside financing, this role is typically filled by an investor board member.

6) The CEO in the Flesh
Some boards fail to elevate the CEO to the level they should. That’s a critical mistake. If the CEO is supposed to command respect and serve as the company’s primary leader, how can he or she do that without commanding respect from the board?

7) The Chairman of the Board
This role might seem obvious, but deciding who should fill it can be tricky. In some companies, the CEO will also assume the role of chairman. If that’s the case in your business, it’s a good idea to appoint a senior director who can work with the CEO/chairman to ensure that other board members’ voices are being heard. The other option is to have an independent board member serve as chairman. In that scenario, the chairman must possess the cache and skills to organize the board, keep everyone on the same page, and foster board cohesion.

So there you have it — the seven key players that I think make up an expansion-stage board dream team.

All sports analogies aside, an expansion-stage board is a team. And like any team, you need to assemble yours with people who add unique value to the organization. The more you can acquire diverse perspectives and align them with your management, operational, and strategic goals, the more likely it is you will derive something meaningful from your board.

Scott Maxwell is the Founder and Senior Managing Director of OpenView Venture Partners, a Boston-based venture capital firm focused on investing in expansion-stage technology companies.

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

5 Comments

  • I really like this succinct summary of the composition of a great Board.

  • Scott: great piece and agree with typographies. I’d add that the balance among those roles and the types of issues around each evolve (or should evolve) with the stage of the company. For example, early stage companies look for market fit and legitimacy while later stage looks for scaling within a market and across markets. That leads to the tougher issue about how to transition the board team to match the company’s needs–that’s one of the key roles of the chair or lead director so the CEO doesn’t have to (or may not be able to) spend their political capital evolving the board.

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  • Outstanding summation of what’s necessary in a great Board.

    After having dealt (as a service provider) with hundreds of boards in 20 years, only 2-3 meet these high standards, and NEVER in public companies.

    All too often, we still get friends of the CEO instead of tough-minded board members, to the detriment of employees, clients and shareholders.

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