How to Run Effective Board Meetings in a Startup
Board meetings can be a great pain or a add great value to a startup. When managed correctly, they should always be the latter
Managing communications with investors is one of the key tasks for a startup CEO. Board meetings provide a regular cadence for such communication. That said, too often board meetings turn into long obligatory update sessions everyone around the table simply ‘endure.’
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Managed correctly, board meetings can add significant value to the company. They are a good opportunity to create alignment, discuss strategic topics, help steer the company in the right direction, and ensure everyone is on the same page.
Based on my experiences, here are some best practices entrepreneurs can adopt to run effective board meetings.
Before the Board
Plan ahead. Send a detailed agenda and related materials, or deck, several days before the meeting. This gives everyone ample time to review the deck and the financials and come prepared with relevant questions. It also prevents the meeting from turning into an update session. Since people will have had the opportunity to examine the state of business, there is no need to go over everything again in the meeting, leaving more time for strategic discussions.
No surprises. As you assemble the agenda, remember that board meetings are not a good time to surprise your board members with major news or company decisions. In general, you should have an ongoing 1:1 dialog with each of your board members outside the board meeting. Just like the deck, you should share sensitive or surprising information with individual board members before the meeting so there is abundant time to digest.
Who’s joining? Some companies like to bring the entire management team to boards, while others prefer to have only the CEO. While there is a benefit in giving the entire management team exposure to the board, often limited time results in each executive rushing through their presentation without meaningful discussion.
Pick a topic. In my experience, the best way to provoke meaningful discussion is to set a single topic (e.g., marketing, product, R&D, customer success) that will be discussed at length in each board, besides the general updates. This solves the problem of having the entire management team present while ensuring that the relevant executive who joins the specific board has enough time to discuss their approach. It is a better use of management’s time and ensures your team still gets exposure to the board (and vice versa), while leading to a much more profound discussion.
During the Board
Keep it tight. For most startups, a board meeting should not go over two and a half hours. This is ample time to provide a high-level update of the business and discuss the major items. Having a short meeting also ensures everyone stays concentrated the entire time and that the questions and discussions are relevant and efficient. Long board meetings tend to be less effective since people disengage and conversations start to drift. When you cross the two and a half hour mark, you’re likely spending too much time updating the board on irrelevant details.
Run the show. As the CEO, you are in charge of managing the meeting. Feel free to cut off board members if you feel the discussion is drifting too much or is irrelevant. If you see that people are getting sleepy, you can wake them up with questions. Make sure you manage time well and leave enough time for all the topics you want to cover. The board meeting should end when it is expected to end and not run longer.
Be brief. When presenting the ‘state of the union,’ shoot for brevity. On occasion, the CEO will discuss many items in detail during the overview, “stealing the thunder” from the executives who will later cover the exact same items during their presentations.
Invite discussion. The best board meetings are not a one-way communication from the CEO but rather a meaningful discussion with everyone around the table. The topics should not only include updates from the management team but also strategic questions you want to discuss with the board. Every board has it own dynamics, and as the CEO you want to make sure all the people are encouraged to express their opinions.
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After the Board
Follow up. Make the board work for you. During the meeting, you can assign tasks for board members (introductions you need, help with recruiting, market studies, etc.). After the meeting you should follow up with an email that specifies the tasks assigned during the meeting. This will help ensure everyone does their part.
Keep everyone in the loop. Make sure you send regular updates to the board so that people are always informed. This ensures the next board meeting becomes even more productive.
This article was originally published on Medium.
Amit Karp is a partner at the Israeli office of venture capital firm Bessemer Venture Partners, headquartered at Menlo-Park, California.