Sitting on the board of a dozen startups, I have seen my fair share of really productive — and really unproductive — board meetings.
Here are some best practices to ensure your board meeting delivers the best results:
- Send out board materials well in advance. Ideally, everything, including the agenda will be sent 48 hours prior. Board members might be travelling or could be tied up with other things; 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 CEOs spend nearly the entire meeting reviewing, which leaves them no time for strategic discussions about the future direction of the company. Keep the MD&A (management discussion and analysis) part short; reserve the most 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). All of this can get lost in details when board members start providing feedback on specific product features or elements of the marketing plan. While this feedback can be very valuable, it should be dealt with in one-on-ones afterward. It should not take away from discussion of the key questions during the meeting.
- Avoid surprises in board meetings. 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: Each member of the meeting should be solely focused on the meeting, not dealing with day-to-day-stuff. Reserve some time for breaks so that everybody can quickly check their email and place a few calls, but nobody should do 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.). It is important to leave enough time for them at the end of the meeting.
- Follow-up with an email outlining the key take-aways: It is always valuable when the CEO follows up with an email to all board members outlining the key take-aways from the meeting. The first slide of the next board meeting should show these key take-aways, and the progress the company has made since the last meeting. This helps align the entire board around the key priorities of the company and the execution against them.
Have your own best board meeting practices? Post them here in the comments.
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