Doing ‘Boards-in-Action’ Research — an ethnographic approach for the capture and analysis of directors’ and senior managers’ interactive routines



This paper is the first of two papers which will introduce a research approach where groups of directors and senior managers have, not only been observed, but also captured interacting with each other on audio tape recordings. It represents a move from asking board members questions during interviews to seeing and hearing them interactively perform in the boardroom (and elsewhere) over a period of time. When we undertake such ethnographic research what we primarily see is directors and senior managers talking to each other. We suggest that through a close study of their talk-based interpersonal routines, a detailed account of their skills and how factors such as knowledge or know-how and experience are deployed to influence boardroom process is possible. In this first paper our objective is limited to: making a case for a focus upon talk-based interpersonal routines in the boardroom/top management team (TMT); an introductory outline of our theoretical and analytical infrastructure drawn from sociology and; reproducing one illustrative extract of directors’ talk to show what this data ‘looks like’. We conclude by outlining an emerging alternative avenue for developing boards/TMTs in a grounded and reflective fashion.