Since making the transition to venture capital, I’ve learned first-hand that a critical part of investor involvement and due diligence involves serving on boards of directors.
I quickly realized that the make-up of a board, as well as what’s required of its members, is vastly different at an early-stage startup than what I’d experienced when I was reporting to the board of a public company.
My formative experience with board meetings was as a CIO, when I would present information and strategy for my piece of the business. I began sitting in on meetings when I wasn’t actively involved, curious to see how they were run. Eventually, I joined the board of a small startup before landing at Ridge Ventures. As a VC, I’ve served on six boards and spoken with hundreds of founders.
When they’re run properly, board meetings provide tremendous value to founders. But they can be tedious tasks that members dread, or a disorganized mess during which nothing meaningful is accomplished. They can run too long, lack the right content, require too many follow-ups, or fail to drive enough action.
Remember that board members have a fiduciary duty, and will not always agree with you on how best to move forward.
Frustration builds when people aren’t able to speak up and be heard regularly. Having a clear process in place that allows for focused, valuable work to get done efficiently is critical to getting the most out of your board meetings.
Here are ten quick tips to ensure your board meetings run without a hitch.
Planning and consistency are critical
Establish a regular cadence for building the board deck, and distribute it to members several days in advance. In the early stages, this process might be a one-person show driven entirely by the founder. As a company grows, key updates will need to come from other leaders.
Start early, have a template and structure in place, and give your key stakeholders the opportunity to add content at regular intervals. Define topics and goals clearly in your agenda, and distribute it to board members before the meeting. Follow up promptly, and include a recap 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 certain conversation goes on for too long, move it into a parking lot (a space for discussions or questions that can be addressed later) for offline discussion. Don’t turn your board meeting into a solutions 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 key engineer come in to give a product update, or have the sales lead responsible for a major customer win come in and talk about what went right.
Many employees who don’t have regular opportunities to interact with the board consider it a huge career boost to get direct, face-to-face credit for an important accomplishment. Bring in the person who is best equipped to talk through the success story, and make space for them in the agenda.