Since making the transitioning to venture capital, I learned firsthand that a critical part of investor engagement and due diligence involves serving on boards of directors.
I quickly realized that the composition of a board of directors, as well as what is required of its members, is very different at an early stage from what I had experienced when reporting to the board of a publicly traded company.
My formative experience of board meetings was as CIO, when I presented information and strategy for my part of the company. I started attending meetings when I wasn’t actively involved, curious to see how they were run. I ended up joining the board of a small startup before joining Ridge Ventures. As a VC, I’ve served on six boards and talked to hundreds of founders.
When properly run, board meetings are of immense value to founders. But they can be tedious tasks that members fear, or a disorganized mess where nothing meaningful is accomplished. They can take too long, miss the right content, require too many follow-ups, or drive insufficient action.
Remember that board members have a fiduciary duty and will not always agree with you on how best to proceed.
Frustration grows when people are unable to speak their mind and be heard on a regular basis. To get the most out of your board meetings, it’s critical to have a clear process that allows focused, valuable work to be done efficiently.
Here are ten quick tips to make sure your board meetings run smoothly.
Planning and consistency are critical
Set a regular cadence for building the board game and share it among the members a few days in advance. In the early stages, this process can be a one-man show run entirely by the founder. As a company grows, important updates will have to come from other leaders.
Start early, provide a template and structure, and give your key stakeholders the opportunity to add content on a regular basis. Clearly define topics and goals in your agenda and distribute them to board members before the meeting. Follow up immediately and include a summary of action items to ensure everyone understands what is expected of them. Have a clear set of actions and takeaways. Keep track of what people have committed to and hold them accountable.
Keep the meeting on track
If a particular conversation is taking too long, move it to a parking lot (a space for discussions or questions that can be answered later) for offline discussion. Don’t make your board meeting a solution meeting – this is a time to report, talk about where you need help and plan. Healthy debate is good, but you don’t want a whiteboard session.
Let employees present
Have a chief engineer come in to provide a product update, or have the sales manager responsible for a major win visit a customer to tell you what went well.
Many employees who don’t have the opportunity to interact with the board on a regular basis consider it a huge career boost to get immediate personal credit for an important achievement. Bring in the person best equipped to talk through the success story and make room for them in the agenda.