Companies like GE and Citi have implemented pseudo-venture capitalist boards to oversee ambitious projects, and they've been very successful.
When former General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt finished reading Eric Ries' 2011 book "The Lean Startup" not long after it was published, he was so inspired that he soon made the book required reading for managers across the company and hired Ries as a consultant.
Immelt and Ries developed FastWorks, an initiative to implement Ries' entrepreneurial ethos into GE, for the purpose of reinvigorating the company with the ability to quickly and efficiently pursue exciting ideas.
Part of this process was the development of "group boards," teams of employees that would meet regularly and behave the way a board of investors would for a young startup. Ries explained in his latest book, "The Startup Way," what these group board meetings entail and why they are now important elements of companies like GE, Citibank, and Dropbox.
Ries wrote that the idea of a growth board is a simple concept: "In a startup, the board generally hears from company founders. An internal growth board in a bigger organization creates a single point of accountability for teams that are operating as startups."
A group board has three responsibilities: Ensuring that the "startup" team is held accountable to goals, acting as the mediator between the team and the rest of the company, and to supply "metered funding" by setting restrictions on both time and money for specific projects.
Ries worked with David Kidder, CEO of the management consulting firm Bionic, to implement growth boards at GE. Kidder told Ries that the ideal growth board should comprise six to eight C-suite level executives, meet at least once per quarter, make final decisions rather than rely on follow-up discussions, focus on data, and not allow proxy votes.
These growth boards bring order and accountability to ambitious experiments. For example, GE's FastWorks projects have ranged from building a cutting edge refrigerator in a fraction of the time it used to take between model iterations to energy-efficient gas turbines.
Ries said that in GE's oil and gas sector specifically, the addition of growth boards completely ended a cycle of wasting time and money on ambitious but sloppy projects within nine months.
"Nine months from expensive, never-ending zombie projects to self-sufficient product teams making their own well-informed decisions about whether to proceed," Ries wrote.