Tom Lazay / February 23, 2024 / 6 MIN READ

Running an Effective Board Meeting

Tom Lazay / / 6 MIN READ

Running an Effective Board Meeting

The Insider’s Playbook for Expansion Stage Board Meeting Success (Part II): Running an Effective Board Meeting

In Part One of this three-part series, we dug into the details of how to assemble a balanced board and prepare for your first meeting. Now, let’s talk about what happens once you’re inside the boardroom.

Navigating your initial board meeting can be a daunting task; it’s common for founders to be unsure of where to start or what to prioritize. 

To create a foundation for a successful board meeting, keep in mind these essential tips to help you organize and engage your board effectively—ensuring that every meeting is productive and contributes positively to your company’s trajectory.

Keep Meetings Organized and Engaging

Effective board meetings maintain a consistent structure from meeting to meeting. This ensures that members know what to expect and can prepare accordingly. 

This consistency, however, should be balanced with the flexibility to address unique topics as they arise, ensuring that each meeting remains relevant and focused on current company needs. The key to a productive meeting is not just in providing information, but in fostering an interactive environment where board members are actively engaged in the discussion.

For maximum impact, keep your meetings well-organized and to the point, avoiding unnecessary details that can lead to information overload. A clear and concise presentation of important updates—like new hires, major successes, and current challenges—coupled with specific queries for the board, can significantly enhance the effectiveness of these sessions.

Key Takeaway: Maintaining a consistent and well-organized meeting structure helps ensure you’re getting the most out of your board members in every session.

Provide Regular Updates Outside of the Boardroom

In some cases, founders will err on the side of overwhelming their board with information in a misguided attempt at transparency. This creates burdensome busywork for you and your board members.

I remember—not fondly—one 3-hour boardroom experience where we sat through 92 slides breaking down every detail related to every department, every decision, and every negotiation. We were exhausted by the end and were only left with a few minutes to discuss some of the most important issues impacting the future of the company.

To ensure board meetings are focused and productive, it’s essential to keep retrospective updates to a minimum while still keeping members operationally informed. 

This can be achieved by publishing and sending a short and concise investor update each month, including major developments, financial highlights, progress toward goals, and any significant market or operational shifts. At this stage of a startup, I recommend sending these updates to all investors, not just your board. 

This approach directs the board’s precious time together towards decision-making and future planning, allowing members to effectively concentrate on discussing current initiatives and long-term visions rather than rehashing past events.

Key Takeaway: Sharing monthly or quarterly updates with all of your investors keeps them engaged and informed so you can focus board meeting conversations on getting the help you need.

Don’t Gloss Over the Rough Stuff

A common pitfall that I’ve seen many founders face is continuing the ‘sell’ mode in board meetings, leading to a dog-and-pony show that does more harm than good. Presenting overly optimistic scenarios or glossing over challenges creates a dangerous and misguided feedback loop, potentially leading to bad advice from board members. It’s a cycle that compounds issues rather than resolving them.

To cultivate a productive board environment, founders should adopt a forthright approach when facing difficulties. A respected colleague of mine said it best: “Go ugly early.” This mantra underscores the importance of being upfront about challenges as soon as they arise (if not before), rather than waiting for them to escalate to the point of no return. 

A strong leader presents issues with a thorough analysis and proposes concrete solutions or strategies for moving forward. This approach should not be about asking the board an open-ended question about what to do in a crisis, but rather presenting a well-considered plan and seeking their input to refine it. Such transparency and solution orientation not only build trust but also empower the board to provide effective support and guidance.

Key Takeaway: Don’t be afraid to shine a light on challenges. When you’re facing a problem, try to avoid asking open-ended questions about what to do—make an informed recommendation instead. 

Get Your Executive Team Involved

Involving senior leaders in board meetings transforms these sessions from mere updates to comprehensive strategic discussions. 

When heads of departments such as Sales, Marketing, and Finance present their own segments, it provides the board with a direct line of sight into each department’s leadership so you can get independent feedback about your team. It also imposes a sense of agency over performance when department leaders feel directly accountable to the board.

This approach also streamlines the preparation process for CEOs. Distributing the responsibility for presentation across department heads ensures that each segment is detailed and informative, delivered by those most familiar with the content. 

Key Takeaway: Delegating operational reviews and discussions to your senior team takes a burden off of you and gives your senior team an elevated sense of ownership over their responsibilities. 

Gather Immediate Board Feedback

Incorporating an executive session at the end of expansion stage board meetings is a practice that can significantly enhance leadership effectiveness. 

This session typically involves the management board members stepping out, allowing the other board members to conduct a candid debrief. It’s a moment for investors and other board members to discuss the meeting’s outcomes without the presence of the management team. Once the board collates their feedback, it is then shared with the management board members upon their return. This process, though it might seem uncomfortable, is an invaluable tool for gaining board alignment, as well as honest, immediate insights.

This feedback from the board can vary from constructive advice to critical assessments. It’s vital for founders to receive this feedback in a constructive manner, understanding that it’s aimed at improving both their performance and the company’s direction. Keep in mind that your board won’t expect perfection—the goal is to gather feedback and adjust your approach along the way.

I always appreciate it if a founder calls me and wants to debrief one-on-one—it’s not out of bounds to do so. If you’re feeling uncomfortable or if you’re not sure how to interpret the feedback, call your most trusted board member and have them walk you through it or explain in more detail. They might offer some other tips for the next meeting.

Key Takeaway: An executive session at the end of the board meeting gives you immediate and honest feedback, keeping you in tune with the board’s sentiment before any concerns can amplify over time.

Take a look at Part Three of this series, we dive into some insider boardroom strategies that expansion stage founders can keep in mind to set every meeting up for success.

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