Effective oversight and strategic direction are vital for ensuring that a company is doing the best for its shareholders. The board of directors are tasked with ensuring that this happens and the most common formal way of making decisions is through the board meeting.
Unfortunately, directors often report that the board meeting is actually one of the least effective ways of achieving consensus. Often this is because the board meeting is just expected to happen or sort itself out, but like anything, a top quality meeting is a result of planning and design.
These are our top ten basic requirements, not just for a board meeting but for any business gathering.
- Invite the right people – it may seem that this is simple; we just invite people who are actually directors. In fact, a board can invite any number of subject matter experts to ensure that they have access to the best information. Think about who you could invite in for a short period to add richness to your data or whether you want experienced advisors to sit in and observe.
- Have a timed agenda – typically if there isn’t a timed agenda, or often an agenda at all then discussions can tend to ramble and not achieve anything. Make sure there is a countdown clock and stick to it. Appoint someone to be a keeper of time and move the discussion on at the allotted point.
- Pre-distribute information – there’s little point in waiting until the morning of the meeting to give your Non-Executive (NED) directors a complex board pack. Make sure you distribute at least a working week in advance so that they can have time to read and formulate questions.
- Distribute only information that’s relevant – whilst we’re on the subject of the board pack it is important to remember that the board is supposed to be discussing high-level strategy and results not the minutiae of how many widgets have been produced. Don’t send everything you possibly can, instead send important and relevant information and not a version of War and Peace!
- Think about housekeeping – directors are people too. Think about the environment you’re holding the meeting in. If it gets too hot then people will tend to wilt and make poor decisions, feed them so that they aren’t thinking about lunch and have regular comfort breaks so that they stay fresh and engaged.
- Include actions – so often in meetings a long discussion happens without any definitive answer being found or any actions being taken. Think about what you want to happen as a result of the meeting and who should achieve what and by when.
- Keep it professional – this doesn’t mean petty arguments (although it goes without saying that discussions should be kept civil) but more that directors should ensure that whilst they are in the board meeting they are discussing work issues. A half hour chat about golf handicaps during a two hour board meeting is definitely not the best use of time.
- Keep the discussion on track – following on from that point, you have a timed agenda, and you are ensuring that you are only talking about work so you have the ingredients to keep the talks on track. This means that when you get to an agenda point you keep to that point rather than introducing something else into the mix. If you have anything to add that isn’t on the agenda then make sure it appears during any other business or is taken offline.
- Appoint an effective facilitator – normally this should be the chair of the board but it is also a valid decision to bring in an independent facilitator to ensure that rules are followed and the discussion proceeds fairly.
- Keep a record –There are many decisions that are legally required to be recorded at board level but even the more general discussions should be recorded so that everyone is on the same page. Being able to look back in a few months’ time and see why you chose a course of action is often a really useful facility to have!
Board meetings don’t have to be painful. Just follow a few common sense rules and see how they become much more pleasant to attend and produce more effective output.