I did a few posts on this topic back in 2004 when I was just starting to get this blogging thing.
These posts were inspired by my friend Brad Feld’s initial post on the same topic.
So it’s not surprising that when Brad, Amy, The Gotham Gal, and I got together for dinner in Paris this past weekend, we got to talking about board meetings. Brad is frustrated with them. I am too. There is too much reporting and not enough discussing going on. And there isn’t enough face to face interaction.
One of our portfolio companies has a board of five and the directors are in three locations. Last month we had a meeting where all but one of the directors was in the room. It was the best meeting we have had in close to a year. Near the end of the meeting, I put a fairly meaty strategic topic on the table and we did not have enough time to do it justice. The founder/CEO suggested we reconvene a few weeks later with everyone in the room.
That reconvention happened last week and we had every director in the room and no agenda. We got right to the “big meaty strategic topic” and talked it over for two hours. That was a terrific meeting, by far the best meeting we have had in the company’s history.
So what can we learn from this story?
1) get everyone in the room
2) less reporting
3) more discussing
For this to work, the board has to commit to face to face meetings. The CEO has to keep the Board up to date in between meetings so reporting doesn’t have to happen in the meeting. And the Board needs to understand the business and the market well enough to be able to have a substantitive discussion about the key issues the business is facing.
None of these are easy to accomplish. Everyone is busy and not enough investors make the committment to understand the business well enough to participate in a serious strategic discussion. If anyone is to blame for bad board meetings it is the VCs and other non management directors who are not doing their jobs well enough. And I plead guilty as charged in this regard. I can and should do a better job as a board member on many of the boards I am on.
But ultimately it is the entrepreneur’s board and the entrepreneur’s problem. They need to call bullshit on bad meetings, bad boards, participating by phone, and so on and so forth. And everyone in the startup sector should wake up to the fact that too many board meetings suck. We can and should do better. For our companies, for our management teams, for our investors, and for ourselves.
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