Are ‘board-style’ meetings an antiquated concept?

Have you ever wondered about the terms ‘chairman’ and ‘board’? Do they not seem slightly arcane to you? Have you questioned where they come from?

The answer to this question provides interesting insight into the nature of board meetings, and may surprise you.
The terms date back to mediaeval times. The board was exactly ‘that’, a very large plank of wood which could be set on trestles to make what we now call a table (from the Latin ‘tabula’: a board, plank, flat top piece). The board would be brought out in the middle of the mediaval hall for meetings and mealtimes (which were usually coincident) and the most important person, the landowner or Lord of the Manor, would have a chair set by the fire to keep warm away from the drafty open end of the hall.
This position was refered to as ‘the chairman’ of ‘the board’.
These days, our heating and ventillation have much improved, but for some reason our meeting practices remain largely unchanged, and there is a lot of evidence that it would not be particularly easy to tell the difference between a board meeting then and a board meeting today, except in terms of the language used and some of the topics discussed.
These similarities may in part be due to legal reasons, but the same patterns cascade down through our management meetings as well, and it seems somewhat strange, given the level of progress that the last 500 years have brought to so many other areas of our work, that meetings should remain so rooted in the past – something to ponder on?
As a parting shot on this, please take a look at the picture on the right and consider what thoughts and feelings and reactions this stirs within you. Perhaps you think it looks the very epitome of a modern efficient meeting space?
Then please click on this link, and look at a painting from over 400 years ago of the Treaty of London. Makes you wonder doesn’t it?

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