The Wall Street Journal reported last week on a new study conducted by GMI Ratings for the newspaper. The study examined boards of directions, and it took a look at the link between board size and performance. Here is a summary of the findings:
Among companies with a market capitalization of at least $10 billion, typically those with the smallest boards produced substantially better shareholder returns over a three-year period between the spring of 2011 and 2014 when compared with companies with the biggest boards, the GMI analysis of nearly 400 companies showed. Companies with small boards outperformed their peers by 8.5 percentage points, while those with large boards underperformed peers by 10.85 percentage points. The smallest board averaged 9.5 members, compared with 14 for the biggest. The average size was 11.2 directors for all companies studied, GMI said.
What are the advantages of smaller boards? Why might they perform more effectively? Here are a few potential reasons cited in the Wall Street Journal article:
- Decisions can be made more quickly with a smaller team. It can be more nimble.
- Each person is more likely to be fully committed, prepared, and engaged. There's less likelihood of free riders on a small board.
- People are more likely to be candid in a more intimate atmosphere than on a large board.
- A small board can dig into an issue in much more depth. On a large board, you may have a tendency to deal superficially with issues rather than really "getting your hands dirty."
I would add one other reason. We already know that teams tend to focus their discussion on information commonly held by all participants, and they don't spend enough time on information held privately by one or a few members. That challenge becomes even more pronounced as a team becomes larger. Therefore, a smaller board benefits from a higher likelihood that information and expertise from all members will be shared and discussed.