How to Run a Board Meeting

As a CEO, managing your board and the board meeting tempo is one of your responsibilities. You want your board members to come to the meeting prepared, understand your expectations, and expect consistency from meeting to meeting.

Transcript

As a CEO, managing your board and managing the board meeting tempo is one of your responsibilities. You want your board members to come to the board meetings prepared, to have an expectation that’s set by you about what you want from them in the board meeting, and to have some consistency from board meeting to board meeting.

For many entrepreneurs, it’s very effective to have frequent board meetings, maybe once a month, every six weeks, sometimes as frequently as daily. Most board meetings tend to be somewhere between two and four hours long, especially for early stage companies. As the companies get bigger, the frequency of the board meetings may decrease. So if you’re a company that’s on the way to going public, let’s say, you know, or a couple hundred people, you might find that you’re having board meetings on a quarterly basis instead of every six weeks or every other month. The time of those board meetings as you have them less frequently can also start to expand. So you might find that previously three hours was enough for a board meeting, but now you need five or six hours for a board meeting. Allowing that to evolve over time is important, but every year setting that expectation as the CEO for what the board meeting tempo the following year is going to look like is key. Now, it’s important to recognize that you don’t have to only have board meetings when scheduled. Lots of things come up in the course of a business that require board interaction on an ad-hoc basis, whether it’s a telephone call or video conference or even an in-person meeting. And a really good board is very flexible and able to be responsive to the CEO when something’s needed, whether it’s a decision or an update or a legal issue or something that’s going on transactionally.

The best board meetings are ones where all the board members come to the meeting well prepared with all of the material about how the company’s been doing. And that material can include financial information, but it can also include product information, sales information, strategic information, things that you want the board members to pre-read in advance of the board meeting. The worst board meetings are the ones where for two or three hours, the CEO and the leadership team gets up and reports out to the board what’s been happening. Most board members can read. Rather than showing up at the board meeting and presenting them with that material, give them a couple of days to absorb that in advance, so when they show up at the board meeting, you can actually engage in a real conversation.

I think there’s a couple of different kinds of expectations you can set with your board. One is your expectation around attendance and engagement. Do you expect the board members to be in person, or do you expect them to at least be on a video conference? Well, if it’s at least on a video conference, you need to make sure that you’ve got the infrastructure to have a high quality video conference that’s low friction for them to set up. What you really want is you want the board members to be in the moment, and be fully engaged with you and your team during the course of the board meeting. But unless you explicitly state that, what you should expect is that you’ll have plenty of board members with their iPhones out periodically checking their email and seeing what’s going on in the world. Defining in advance what those expectations are is important. But then the flip side of that is making sure that you hold yourself to a high standard in terms of communication. If you say you’re going to send out the board package 72 hours in advance, do that. If you expect that everybody’s going to be fully engaged for a three-hour board meeting, make sure that every hour you have a five minute break. Manage the time of the board meeting so the board meetings don’t end up being 87 minutes about one topic, and then three minutes about the four topics, three of which were way more important than the one topic that you spent 87 minutes on. So expectation setting goes both directions, but it also has to be managed, and the person that typically manages that in most companies is the CEO.

I think it’s really powerful for CEOs to close the loop after the board meeting. I think the CEOs who do send out a note to the entire board, playing back the key things that they heard, so that the board as a whole is on the same page in terms of the context of what was talked about and comes out of the board meeting ends up setting a tone that’s very constructive for the continued interaction around those issues. It also gives you a really good way from board meeting to board meeting to reflect back on what was being discussed at the previous board meeting, and what kind of actions were taken from that between the previous board meeting and today.

Plan the board meeting calendar well in advance. So schedule out the entire next year’s board meetings probably sometime in the fall of the previous year. Your board members’ calendars are chaotic, they change constantly. Make sure that you’ve got the time already allocated for your board meetings so everybody has an expectation. Other thing is make sure that you actually have a comfortable meeting. If you have a meeting that happens from 10-2, serve lunch. Do a little work and know that one of your board members is a vegetarian, and another board members keeps kosher. Like, accommodate them, be respectful of whatever they like or don’t like. Make sure that you’ve got, you know, simple things like coffee and juice and some sodas. And just three or four hours sitting in a stale room with nothing going on isn’t a particularly comfortable tone. So put a little bit of energy into making sure that it’s comfortable in the same way you would with an important customer, an important partner, anybody that you would want to have this comfortable relationship with you. Again, it doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It doesn’t have to be formal. But just be thoughtful about it.

Suggested Readings

Founders School || Startup Boards || How to Run a Board Meeting || Impact Guide (PDF).

Feld, Brad and Mahendra Ramsinghani. 2013. Startup Boards: Getting the Most Out of Your Board of Directors. New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons Inc. Chapter 8 “The Actual Board Meeting”.

Blumberg, Matt. 2013. Startup CEO: How to Build a Company to Success. New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons Inc. Chapter 34 “Board Meeting Materials”.

Blumberg, Matt. 2013. Startup CEO: How to Build a Company to Success. New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons Inc. Chapter 35 “Running Effective Board Meetings”.

Blumberg, Matt. 2013. Startup CEO: How to Build a Company to Success. New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons Inc. Chapter 37 “Decision Making and the Board”.

Jeff Bussgang. “Board Meetings vs. Bored Meetings.” Seeing Both Sides. Blog post, April 5, 2011.

See Brad’s “Checklist #1 – Preparing Your Board Package” in Startup Boards: Getting the Most Out of Your Board of Directors.

Establish a consistent board schedule for the year. Share it with them, so they can prepare their schedules.

Mock-up a board meeting itinerary: Make sure there is enough time in each board meeting for the topics you want to cover, as well as other needed breaks.

Questions for You

Have I established a consistent board meeting schedule?

How far in advance do I provide the board members with the information they need for the meeting?

What kind of topics do I make sure to cover first? Is this effective or the most efficient?

What expectations have I made clear to board members regarding attendance and engagement?

How do I manage the schedule of board meetings?

Do I follow up with my board members? What do I include in my follow-up?

Questions for Your Team

What is expected of me while preparing for a board meeting?

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