Throughout my career, I’ve had experience both running board meetings and attending as an investor or an independent member. Board meetings can be stressful and tedious, or they can be meaningful ways to get insight and confirm decision-making. Run well, they can be an important part of growing and managing your company.
It's often thought that board meetings should focus on reporting metrics and receiving judgment, but these meetings can accomplish much more than that. In fact, most of the reporting and feedback should be completed outside the meetings. Board meetings are more useful when they center around charting the company’s future, not scrutinizing its past. Board meetings can be an invaluable mechanism for ensuring grounded decisions for your company.
But to get the most out of these meetings, what should you share and discuss? What’s the appropriate level of detail? How do you leverage board members’ wisdom and expertise? Here are some tips.
Establish expectations for your board meetings
Take control of these meetings by laying down the ground rules of how they’ll run. The sooner you do this the better, but it’s never too late. Define and set your expectations. This could be done at your next meeting, or better yet, it could be done beforehand, individually with each board member. Here are some ground rules of what to put into place:
- Define the purpose and goals of your board meetings. For instance: Board meetings should generate action items for the biggest questions faced as a company. Those action items coming out of board meetings should contribute directly to an increase in performance.
- Determine what should (and should not) be discussed. Do discuss topics that each member can provide useful insights on, such as major company decisions and actions that need board approval. In addition, leverage your board's networks and expertise to bolster areas such as recruitment, partnerships, and high-level business strategy. Don't use this time to discuss topics only a portion of board members can engage in. Bring everyone up to speed with the issue and necessary context before the meeting, so that all members can have an informed discussion on it at the meeting. If an individual board member is knowledgeable and interested in helping in an area, then invite them to discuss this with the corresponding business unit. In fact, this should be done proactively and not just as a deflection of unsolicited advice. Continuously match your board members’ strengths with your company’s areas for improvement and garner their support outside of the board meeting. Determine what expertise each board member can bring and how they want to be involved in order to define when and how you’ll share things with the larger group vs. just one-on-one, when relevant.
- Find a consistent format for your board meetings. Make it clear, and stick to it. The frequency of your board meetings should reflect the maturity of your company. Younger companies often change faster than older ones and therefore tend to meet more frequently. The frequency of your board meetings will also determine the time frame you review during the meetings.
- Establish a culture of your board meetings. This is important to build the group’s alignment. The culture you establish for your board meetings is up to you, and will probably resemble the culture and values of your company.
Once you’ve defined the expectations for your board meetings, create a document that clearly states what they are, and send it to each member. Follow up individually to discuss, if necessary, so that all members have a clear understanding of how your board meetings will proceed going forward.
Do the heavy lifting between board meetings, not during
Surprisingly, board meetings are not an efficient place to make decisions. A board meeting is better spent confirming and documenting decisions that have already been reached outside the meeting.
Consider speaking separately with each board member between meetings. This way you can go deep on a topic they each have expertise in, without making the actual meetings drag on with lengthy discussions that only some members can contribute to. Then when it comes time to actually meet as a board, the group can have an informed discussion, if needed, or confirm the decision already reached before the meeting.
Board meeting agenda
An agenda you might follow for each quarterly board meeting is as follows: 10:00am – 10:20am: CEO update 10:20am – 10:40am: Metrics update 10:40am – 12:45pm: Open discussions 12:45pm – 1:00pm: Closed session
Even if you allot three hours, it’s fine to end early.
Send out a board packet before the meeting
To summarize the discussions had outside the board meetings and ensure everyone is on the same page—create a board meeting packet in preparation for the next board meeting. The meeting packet is an outline of the upcoming meeting. Send it four to five days in advance of the meetings.
The board meeting packet details the items you plan to cover and provides important context. Receiving the meeting packet in advance allows board members to digest the material and email questions, or to point out topics they want to address during the meeting. You can then respond to those questions and facilitate the discussions more effectively.
Follow-up after the meeting
After each board meeting, follow-up with each board member by emailing them a concise recap of the decisions that were made and the action items for them to support. This gives the board members an easy way to reference back to the meetings and will also help with keeping folks accountable. Also send the executive team takeaways from the meeting and the action items for them.
Use board meetings to your advantage
Your performance as a leader will be judged by your board of directors, and how you run your board meetings will influence their perception of you.
Put yourself in the board members’ shoes: As a board member, would you have more confidence in a leader who proposed solutions without asking for advice, or would you prefer to support a CEO who used these meetings to apply the experience and knowledge of the board to better the overall team and position of the company?
Be diligent in getting the most out of your board meetings to elevate both yourself and your company. By taking proactive measures to leverage the resources you have available to you, you will improve your board members’ perception of you as a leader.
Remember, it’s the board’s job to help you. Board members enjoy collaborating to solve challenging problems, so use everyone’s time wisely and collaborate to solve your company’s most challenging problems.