Managing Successful Board Meetings

So I'm nervous, like is often the case before many Board meetings.  I tell a story in my head that I need to be massively prepared and if I'm not I'll undermine investor confidence.  So I spend a ton of time putting together material upon material and it's impressive.  Fully prepped. Ready to go.  The Board meeting goes....fine.  No one asks too many questions (I had anticipated many of them).  We leave until the next meeting. 

Actually that meeting was a total fail.  It was measured and prepared but I got nothing out of it and neither did my investors (other than some confidence that it sounds like I know what I'm doing which very often I'm not that sure).  I didn't want to have board meetings like this anymore.  They weren't moving the business forward.  I needed a new formula and created one.  Today my board meetings are alive and vocal and critical and decidedly energetic.  People don't just listen, they engage and inquire and provide valuable input.  Here is how I did it:

1.  Pre-Reading:  The preparation material I labor over should be pre-reading, not presentation material for the Board meeting.  I get my board members material three days in advance and expect them to read it.  This will give them an overview on the state of the business, the issues, successes, and opportunities.  I communicate to them that we will not be reviewing this pre-read material at the Board meeting.

2.  Have one Topic:  I let my board members know that we are going to isolate the meeting to one topic, my burning issue, the thing that I am most uncertain about or over my skis on.  I set this topic up in advance.  But the topic needs to be something they can help me with and not be so "in the weeds" that they can't engage or so high level that it's not actionable.

3.  Don't Ask for Permission:  For a long time I would look to the Board to give me permission to do things  ("What do you think if we did XYZ?").  It's a terrible way to manage a Board.  The best way is to say, "Here are the options in front of us.  We are going to go down one of these paths.  Here is my recommendation."  What's great about this approach is that it focuses the discussion.  When you ask an ambiguous questions, it can go off in so many tangents and take you down a path you had no intention of traveling.  

4.  Do 1:1 Sessions with Board Members in Advance:  Board members hate surprises.  And if you actually want to get a decision made then it is to your benefit to pre-sell in advance of the meeting so you will know the outcome.  Schedule 30 minutes to get some input on what they would like to accomplish at the Board meeting and review the decisions you are aiming to get made.  Once a Board meeting goes off the rails with a board member that feels "uninformed", you're in trouble.

5.  Have Fun:  Board meetings should be fun.  These people rallied around you because you have energy, a draw they believe in.  Don't compromise that by being too rigid in the board meeting.   Board meetings absolutely do have a governance structure and there are standards to uphold on behalf of shareholders (Duty of Care and Duty of Loyalty), but that doesn't mean you can't show emotion (highs and lows).

Once I relaxed and figured out my board of director formula things got a whole lot better.  Experiment with your design and hopefully some of these points will help you better navigate that next Board meeting.

Russell Benaroya