Being completely prepared for your meetings is key to success. The most effective meetings encourage quality engagement. A well composed agenda and a streamlined distribution process for materials is essential. In our eBook How The Best Boards Do It, we survey the best practices across every stage of the meeting cycle. And while each stage is vital to achieving the most value from your board, the day of your meeting is where everything hinges. It’s the day when decisions are made that steer the ship of your company. To make the most out of your next meeting, here’s 5 tips from, board meeting veterans, that will ensure you get off on the right foot.
1. The meeting chair receives a “timed” agenda.
These days, board agendas are chock full and it’s not unusual for a board discussion to go longer than intended. While directors must take all the time they need for agenda items, the board chair must also be respectful of everyone’s time, and ensure that all key items are discussed. Often it is helpful for the chair to have a “timed agenda” that serves as a guide for how long discussions might run. Some companies give each director a timed agenda. Board portals include this feature for all directors to ensure meetings stay productive. This helps give everyone an idea of the schedule, and if more time is needed the chair can extend the conversation.
2. The independent directors meet in executive session(s).
At each meeting, usually after the agenda items are complete and management is excused, the board will meet in an executive session with the CEO. Following this conversation, the CEO may leave (and the chair if she is not independent) and the independent directors will meet in a second executive session. As appropriate, it’s important for the board chair or lead director to follow-up with the CEO after the executive session.
3. The board meeting agenda is 80% forward looking.
It is easy for the board’s time and attention to be caught up in the rear view mirror syndrome. The propensity to focus far too much time on analysis and past events. While it’s important for directors to hear a president’s report, to review financials, and to hear progress on important company initiatives – these topics involve looking at what the company has already accomplished. Directors must spend most of their time looking forward – at the company’s current plans and projected outcomes. The use of a consent agenda, especially for non-profits, can free up significant time to keep the board looking forward.
4. During discussions, directors constructively challenge management and each other.
Historically, many companies had “review and approve” boards. There wasn’t much discussion over agenda items, management presented and directors said “aye.” In most boardrooms today, boards have progressed and there is meaningful discussion. The question is whether there’s sufficient discussion – are directors comfortable challenging management and their board colleagues? Because the board acts as one, it’s important to ultimately reach a consensus – however, before that consensus can be formed, most matters require sound debate. Directors must test the strength of management’s arguments or challenge other director’s point of view.
5. At the conclusion of the meeting, the chair asks these questions: “Did we accomplish what we needed to get done?” “What could we have done better?” “Did we have the right materials in advance?” “What key items should be on the next meeting agenda?”
These questions cut to the core of the work of the board. Did we accomplish what we needed to get done? If not, what’s next – it must be decided whether the discussion wait until the next regularly scheduled meeting, a special meeting be set, whether more information is needed from management, should the matter go to a committee for review, or should an ad hoc committee be appointed?
What could we have done better? Consider whether the meeting discussions were productive, and if not, what would have made the discussions better.
Did we have the right materials in advance? If not, what materials would have been helpful and should this information be distributed at the next meeting, or included on the board’s portal for immediate reference?
What key items should be on the next meeting agenda? This conversation serves as a starting point as directors look forward to the next meeting.