What Now: Board Meeting or Waste of Time?

By Peter Levine , written on April 30, 2012

From The News Desk

SpiderNet has been around for a few years and you’ve held many board meetings over this time period. But the board meetings have become routine reporting events, and you are often forced to spend additional time with each board member after a board meeting to “tell the real story." You are starting to feel that your board meetings are pretty much bullshit and a waste of time.

Most of your executive team has gotten used to providing you with a few slides that you can take into the meeting, and they rarely have been requested to attend. It has always been you, your finance person and the board at all the meetings.

Given that much of your quality time with the board has been 1:1 meetings outside the board session, and your team has not had to interact much with the board and deal with associated time commitments, this model has not been horrible for the company. In fact, the company has done very well to date, though the product is just now coming to market.

You begin to wonder whether you need to think through a better model for board meetings.  You have on your board some of the most experienced minds in the business and — along with your executive team — you’d really like to make the most of the talent around the table. However, you don’t know where to begin or if you need to change anything. Do you create a new model for your board meetings or proceed with business as usual?

What now?

Board meetings are probably one of the most important yet often overlooked aspects of running a company. When structured properly, you will have a great group of VCs along with a talented team of executives, yet board meetings are often viewed as something to simply “get through”. In addition, they are very often ill prepared and many times, depending on the structure and format of the meeting, little real discussion ever gets done.  In SpiderNet’s case, this is why the CEO must meet with each board member outside the board sessions. What a waste of time!

To the extent you’d like to run a more effective and productive board meeting, here are some guidelines for success.

Set clear expectations early on.

  • Set charter and purpose for the BOD based on individual board member responsibilities.
  • Establish and reinforce the connections among the board member. Have at least 1-2 "outings" with only board members to help foster the bond. Don't focus on an hourglass structure where all interactions run through the CEO.
  • Make sure that the board understands the ways in which they can be helpful outside of the meetings and where your blind spots are.
  • Include key executives at the board meetings—direct reports should present their material on their areas of responsibility.
Be prepared and establish ground rules.
  • Send a complete package to the BOD several days before the meeting. Set the expectation that the package will be read before the meeting. Any questions regarding the package should be brought up beforehand. Use email threads with all the members to ensure everyone is on the same page.
  • Set an agenda and ensure everyone knows what the meeting will consist of
  • Take care of the nitty gritty up front (options grants, legal issues, minutes etc..)
  • Create an engaging environment that allows for discourse around the table. Build in time for discussion around the key themes/issues. Make sure time is spent on the biggest challenges and how you plan on addressing them.
  • Save time for the CEO to bring to light what’s "been on his mind."
Focus on your goals.
  • The focus of the meeting should be to discuss key issues that the Company needs to solve.
  • All the members should be on the same page regarding the five things that the Company has committed to achieving before the next round of funding. The goals and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) should be focused on the Company stage and change over time with buy-in from the BOD.
  • Don't focus on the past or make meetings simply about "reporting" the state of the company. 70 percent of the meetings should focus on the future and the issues at hand. Address what strategic decisions need to be made to get the Company to the next stage.
  • Use Data to help guide the meetings. Data should be consistent and metrics/KPIs agreed upon by the members.
  • Be sure to bring to light both the good and the bad — don't hide the shortcomings but address them up front.
For SpiderNet, I would ask the CEO to reconstruct their board meetings to include all senior executives, focus on key issues and data, and make sure that most of the meeting is an open discussion designed to clarify and help solve key strategic issues.

Board meetings are critically important and can be a great strategic asset to the growth of a company and the CEO. Use them well.

[Be sure to check in on Mondays for Peter's continuing series.]