The founder of a company we have recently invested in was asking me for some advice about running board meetings. I think it’s an important subject.
There is definitely far too much time wasted at board meetings and far too many seem to underwhelm. Lots of valuable people have been brought together with a vested interest in the business but rarely is this opportunity maximised.
Anyway this is pretty much what I sent through which is a distilled down version of my learnings over the years.
I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences with board meetings and pointers for how to make them more effective.
I don’t think a board meeting ever needs to last more than 2.5 hours so I think 3 hours should be absolute maximum. I think this drives focused discussion and people can’t concentrate for much longer anyway.
I like to see a board pack distributed at least 48 hours before a meeting. That should give everyone plenty of time to read.
A board pack should contain financials (performance v plan, management accounts etc.), board matters for approval (legal/admin stuff that requires board consent), management dashboard (the metrics/data you and your team use to manage the business – should include lead indicators as financials are mainly lag), functional reports (from each main functions – sales, marketing, ops, technical etc.) and AOB.
It should be concise as possible (12 slides max)and you should push your team to do this or the pack gets too big and the meeting will get dragged into the weeds.
I think the agenda should comprise of:
1. Reporting – report on the period from CEO and VP Finance. This will largely be backward looking and look at performance v plan. You can sometimes take it down a level to include other senior members of the team but on a selective basis. This is an opportunity to give other managers exposure to the board from time to time which is valuable. I like to see reporting by exception so you really focus on areas that are significantly ahead or behind plan and then just ask if people have further questions.
2. Board Matters – items that require board level visibility and sign-off. Usually legal requirements but include other material decisions that you want to give exposure to at board level.
3. Spotlight (optional) – I like to see one notable achievement or project showcased at board level. I think it is great to give success exposure at board level and it also gets board members more engaged with the business. This is especially true of the product where board members can easily fall behind. Spotlights might include new product release, client case study, marketing campaigns etc.
4. Issues / Opportunities – list out a few areas (no more than 3-4) that you would like to discuss with the board. This is more of the strategic and forward-looking part of the meeting. It gives you the chance to table big discussion points where the board can give you their thoughts, advice and support. It is down to you to take all this information and make the final decisions but hopefully the feedback from the board will help you to do so.
The Issues piece is by far then most important. I think you should aim to take up 50% of the time on the first 3 agenda items and 50% on the 4th. That’s a good guideline and ensures you are spending a good amount of time talking about the future and getting valuable feedback/insights from your board.
Try to share any information relating to the issues in the board pack to get people thinking about them ahead of time. If the agenda is looking fairly full then you can always drop the spotlight section or have it as an optional part of the meeting after the main agenda has been completed.
Physical v virtual
It is much better to have people there face to face and you should encourage all members (including me) to be present for all or most of the meetings. I think it’s better to have fewer meetings with full commitment than more regular with some people unable to attend in person or at all.
Beyond the meeting
I think it’s great to try to have a dinner before or after the meeting. You might not be able to do this every time but I think something like 4 times a year this is really valuable and will build relationships, develop discussions and generally get the board working better together.
It’s also a good idea to keep the board in the loop through email and other forms of communications to keep them engaged and informed. Never assume they are too busy or won’t be interested – if this is true then they are the wrong board members! This can include an email after a good sales month, an example of good media coverage or a new marketing campaign or a new customer win.