Career Success

Justice League, Assemble! Or, How to Build Your Board

By Mike BergelsonMarch 4, 2014

We’ve already talked about what a personal advisory board is and the value of having one. But how do you go about building an effective board? It’s not as simple as you might think. Here are some tips to get you started.

Step 1: What Do You Need?

The first step is to decide on what you are looking for from your personal advisory board. Getting the composition of your board right is a complex area, and we’ll give you some extra tips on creating a well-balanced board in a separate post.

For now, though, you can start by considering the particular skills and types of experience you are looking for. Perhaps you can try to include people from different organizations or even different industries. Consider age and experience levels: are you looking for senior people to guide you, or for peers who can share your experiences and hold you accountable for reaching your goals?  Are you looking to develop your technical skills by consulting with experts in your particular field, or people who can help you improve “soft skills” like leadership and creative problem solving?

Step 2: How Will it Operate?

How many people will be on the board, and how often will you meet them? Will you meet as a group, or individually? In person, or over the phone?

A good set-up is to have about half a dozen people on your board, and to meet as a group two or three times ayear. The group dynamic can create new ideas and perspectives that you wouldn’t have gotten from meeting each person individually, and six is small enough to be manageable, but large enough to provide diversity of opinion.

But other methods can work, too. If you want to include people in different parts of the country or even scattered across the globe, then in-person meetings may not be practical. Even people in the same location may not all be available at the same time for group meetings. The important thing is to decide on the set-up and devise a clear schedule from the start.

Step 3: Scout for Candidates

When you’ve decided on the setup of the board and the qualities you’re looking for from your board members, the next step is to make a shortlist of candidates. Try to cast the net as wide as possible. It’s natural to think of people you already have close relationships with, but you’ll also want some different perspectives.

There are some formal programs that can connect you with board members too. For example, Canadian women’s leadership forum The Judy Project runs a program in which participants are assigned to 7-member personal advisory boards and given a specific format to help them maintain the meetings over time.

Step 4: Approach People

When you’ve got your shortlist, start reaching out.  Arrange to speak with candidates on the phone or, better yet, in person before you invite them to join your board – you’re asking them to assume an important role in your professional life, so prove you want to forge a meaningful relationship with them. 

Sometimes people can be reticent about inviting a candidate to join, perhaps fearing rejection, or not wanting to impose. But you may be surprised at how many people are happy to help, and are even flattered to have been invited.

The important thing in this step is to set expectations clearly. Let people know exactly what you’re asking them to do, what the time commitment is, and what you expect to get from them.

Step 5: Get Started

When you’ve assembled a board you’re happy with, it’s time to hold your first meeting. It’s important to remember that the meeting is entirely your responsibility, and it’s up to you to make sure it’s effective. Plan ahead, have a clear agenda and make the best of use of your new advisors’ time while you have it. We’ll have more advice on running a personal advisory board in future posts.

An Alternative Route

So those are the basic steps for setting up a personal advisory board by yourself. The alternative is to work with us, taking advantage of our experience of creating well-balanced boards and our large pool of potential mentors. It can simplify the process, and give you a better chance of creating a board that will help you now and in the years to come.

Contact us if you want to find out more about how it works. Or keep watching the blog, where we’ll have more advice and information on creating and maintaining effective personal advisory boards.

Thanks to mentorship and advisory boards expert Susan Hammond (@SusanCHammond) for her contribution to this post.

Mike Bergelson

Mike Bergelson

CEO at Everwise

About the Author

Mike Bergelson is the CEO and a co-founder of Everwise, a talent development startup that connects employees to the people, development resources and experiences they need to thrive at every stage of their career.

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