Best practices for board meetings

Chris Fralic‘s tweet about a board meeting best practice this morning got me thinking that this was something I wanted to write about for some time. I currently sit on 12 boards and have therefore seen my fair share of board meetings – most of them were really productive, some of them highly unproductive. Here are some best practices to make sure that your board meeting delivers the best results:

  • Board materials: send out the board materials including the agenda well in advance, preferably 48 hours before the board meeting. Board members might be traveling or could be tied up in meetings and you want to give them enough time to review the materials before the meeting.
  • Spend less time talking about the past, more time talking about the future: I have seen board meetings where the CEO spent almost all of the meeting reviewing the past quarter with no time left for strategic discussions about the future direction of the company. Keep the MD&A (management discussion and analysis) part short and reserve most of the time for discussion about the future of the company.
  • Stay focused on the high-level, don’t get lost in the details: Board meetings should be the time to discuss high-level questions like the company’s marketing or product strategy, the fundraising strategy or the team’s performance (and what kind of talent needs to be added) but can get lost in details when board members start providing feedback on specific product features or elements of the marketing plan. While this feed-back can be very valuable, it should be dealt with in 1:1’s after the board meeting and not take away from discussion of the key questions during the meeting.
  • Avoid surprises in the board meeting: Board meetings are not the place to surprise your investors or independent board members so if you have bad news to share, do this immediately via email / calls and do not wait until the next board meeting. Delivering surprises in the board meeting would immediately create some unease in the meeting and take away focus from the discussion that you intended to have.
  • No email, no calls, no walking out: board meeting time should be solely focused on the meeting and not dealing with day-to-day-stuff. You might reserve some time for breaks so that everybody can quickly check their email and place a few calls but it should be a hard rule that nobody does that during the meeting (full disclosure: I have been guilty of that in the past).
  • Leave enough time for board items: in every meeting, there are a few formalities that need to be dealt with (like stock option approvals, board resolutions, etc.) and it is important to leave enough time for them at the end of the meeting.
  • Follow-up with email outlining the key take-away’s: it is always very valuable when the CEO follows up with an email to all board members outlining the key take-away’s from the meeting and then shows these key take-away’s (and the progress the company has made since the last meeting) as the first slide in the next board meeting. This really aligns the whole board around the key priorities of the company and the execution against them. (thanks, Chris!)

Would love to heard about more best practices in the comments and will update the post accordingly.

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