31. How do you build a business that is smarter than you?

In this episode we answer the question: How do you build a business that is smarter than you? Our guest is Jennifer Sundberg, the co-CEO of Board Intelligence and author of Collective Intelligence.

2/22/20244 min read

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We discuss the following with Jennifer:

  • Why is it so hard to get great conversations in business review meetings?

  • How do you get good at asking the right questions?

  • How do you develop the habit of asking good questions in the organisation?

  • How do you create phenomenal meetings?

  • How do you cut through obfuscation of underperformance in business review meetings?

  • What are the two types of conversations in management meetings?

  • Are written documents the elixir for creating better meetings?



Jennifer is the founder and co-CEO of Board Intelligence, a mission-led technology firm that helps transform boards and leadership teams into a powerful driver of performance and a force for good.

Jennifer has won numerous awards, including EY Entrepreneur of the Year for London & South East and The Times Young Business Woman of the Year, and has held regular columns with Management Today and the Financial Times.

Together with co-CEO Pippa Begg, Jennifer has authored a book published in November 2023, titled ‘Collective intelligence: How to build a business that’s smarter than you are’.

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  • Using electric currents for beauty. 0:05

    • Bethany Ayers discusses her concerns about her appearance, particularly the jowls and lower face area, and how she has been using microcurrent therapy to address these issues.

    • Brandon responds to Bethany's concerns and provides his own thoughts on the topic, including his belief that face exercise is important for maintaining a youthful appearance.

    • Bethany discusses her use of electric currents on her face to reduce the appearance of jowls and improve her appearance, despite being a feminist who questions the societal pressure to conform to beauty standards.

    • Bethany mentions the Ziip Halo, a product she uses for its anti-acne and nano current features, which she believes have helped reduce her breakouts and improve the appearance of her skin.

  • Effective questioning and meeting strategies. 5:20

    • Bethany highlights the importance of asking simple and open-ended questions that encourage critical thinking and problem-solving, rather than complex and leading questions that can limit the conversation.

    • Brandon shares how he has shifted from a more directive and challenging approach to a more curious and why-focused line of questioning, which has led to better results in his conversations.

    • Bethany prefers meetings with a clear purpose and aligned attendees, avoiding unnecessary or unproductive gatherings.

    • Bethany suggests opening meetings with a clear agenda and checking alignment among attendees to maximize productivity.

  • Effective meeting practices and pre-reads. 9:52

    • Bethany and Brandon discuss the importance of periodically reviewing the purpose and format of meetings to ensure they remain useful and productive.

    • Preparing pre-read materials for substantial topics to be debated in leadership meetings can help align everyone and lead to better decisions.

    • Bethany highlights the importance of clarity in pre reads, emphasizing that without it, people may interpret the document differently and have a harder time having a productive conversation.

    • Brandon agrees and adds that pre reads can be used for more than just making a decision, such as for awareness or understanding the background of a topic.

  • Improving board meeting quality through skills development. 14:11

    • Jennifer Sundberg highlights the importance of critical thinking, communication, and focus on what matters most in board information.

    • She emphasizes that these skills are not unique to boards and have far-reaching implications for management teams and organizations as a whole.

  • Asking the right questions in a structured manner. 16:21

    • Bethany and Jennifer discuss the importance of asking the right questions in a framework, with Bethany sharing her experience of iteratively refining questions over time.

    • Jennifer Sundberg suggests using a set of pre-defined questions, called QDs, to help employees think critically and structure their thoughts before writing a report or presentation.

    • She recommends limiting the number of major questions to 5-7 to maintain clarity and avoid overwhelming the receiver with too much information.

  • Improving performance reports by asking simple yet effective questions. 19:25

    • Jennifer Sundberg highlights the importance of addressing the "so what" question in performance reports, as it helps to identify the risks and opportunities on the horizon.

    • Bethany shares her experience of working with teams who struggle to provide meaningful commentary on data visualizations, despite the importance of contextualizing the information.

    • Jennifer Sundberg shares a story about EasyJet's CEO Carolyn McCall, who prioritized employee well-being by asking "how do our people feel?" in every meeting and report, shifting the organization's focus to people and ultimately improving profits.

  • Effective questioning in meetings and leadership. 23:37

    • Jennifer Sundberg emphasizes the importance of asking the right questions in meetings to ensure accountability and precision.

    • She suggests using a software platform or knowledge management system to cascade questions across the organization and update them easily.

    • Jennifer Sundberg emphasizes the importance of asking questions in meetings to encourage open conversations and address underperformance.

    • Bethany raises concerns about politics and lack of clarity in meetings, and suggests addressing cultural issues to facilitate open communication.

  • Leadership meetings and their differences. 29:01

    • Brandon observes that a casual coffee chat with colleagues leads to more open and organic discussions, resulting in valuable insights and revelations.

    • Jennifer suggests grouping agenda items into steering and supervisory categories, with separate meetings to accommodate different modes of thinking and responsibilities.

  • Effective communication through visual aids and self-explanatory reports. 31:42

    • Bethany raises an issue with the assumption that reports must be written in prose, citing her own dyslexia and preference for visual aids.

    • Jennifer agrees, emphasizing the importance of preparing self-explanatory materials that can stand on their own without a verbal narrative to support them.

    • Jennifer Sundberg emphasizes the importance of critical thinking in report production, suggesting that the process of creating these documents can lead to valuable insights and improved outcomes.