If you are responsible for the smooth running of your Board and its meetings – this blog is for you.
Our experience of working with boards and committees of all sizes has taught us a lot about what works and what doesn’t. So here we share our seven strategies for successful meetings.
1. Prepared participants
Effective board meetings need all the attendees to be prepared.
This means they need to have read the Board pack before the meeting (more on how to make your papers user-friendly below…) and come armed with set objectives.
Make it clear what you require from your directors. Let them know that you expect them to be familiar with your papers and the issues to be discussed. And make it easy for Board members to meet your expectations by disseminating papers and any background reading in good time.
2. Attendance in person
Many experienced Chairs of Boards are big believers in personal meeting attendance. If your meetings are too frequent – or your directors too geographically-dispersed – to make this realistic, insist on live attendance at least quarterly.
Often the best insights can be gleaned from informal chats and networking breaks – something that’s impossible to replicate via video conference or call.
3. Have a clear agenda with the right items
Having a set agenda is essential. The meeting needs a firm structure to avoid digression.
Make sure the important items are tackled regularly – even if they’re challenging ones. It can be easy to skip over tricky subjects like succession planning. But planning for succession – not just of the CEO, but key executives like the COO and CFO, and other directors – is essential.
Other items will depend on the company strategy, the economic landscape and the needs of shareholders. A start-up is likely to have very different priorities to an established firm. The personality and personal objectives of the CEO or other Chair will also have an impact.
The ‘right’ agenda will be something unique to your organisation, and you and the other Board members are the people best-placed to define it.
4. Keep it on topic
Having an agenda is one thing; sticking to it – quite a different challenge. A strong Chair will help here.
While a fairly informal meeting can be preferred, particularly if the Board composition has been the same for some time and the members know each other well, a degree of formality can help to ensure that the core items are covered.
Make sure there are clear lines of authority, and mutually-agreed rules of engagement for discussion. That way, everyone can be happy that issues have been discussed sufficiently and equitably.
5. Make action points unambiguous and accountable
If any actions need to be taken, be clear on what’s needed and who is responsible. Before you finish the meeting, and in any follow-up emails, make sure next steps are explicit, with deadlines and owners set out.
Establishing these actions can be a challenge in itself. Make sure your meeting is action-oriented – focus on your end goals to prevent discussion descending into debate and digression. Be disciplined in driving every conversation towards a conclusion, with an associated next step.
6. User-friendly Board papers
The Board pack itself is essential to the success of your meetings. Your pack needs to be professional; easy to read and navigate; comprehensive and up to date, with the latest papers included.
Set out clear guidelines for papers in terms of length, content and the deadline you need them by in order to include them in your pack.
Also make sure your pack is delivered in the way that your directors want, whether that’s online or in hard copy. Do they want to go paperless? – or would ‘paper-lite’ suit your members better, giving directors a choice as to how they read the information?
7. Well-organised sub-meetings
A Board’s efficiency can be improved by setting up sub-committees that deal with the detail of – for example – finance or governance. Depending on the size and complexity of your organisation, these meetings might take place every time there’s a Board meeting, or less frequently.
Timing is important – often it’s more effective to hold sub-committee or working group meetings a week or so after the core meeting, so that action items can be allocated by the Board and addressed swiftly.
Any groups that need to input into the Board agenda – compensation committees, for example – should be the exception to this rule, and get together shortly before the main meeting so that their recommendations can be proposed.
Hopefully, you already adopt these seven strategies. But if there are any areas where you can improve, they may provide food for thought.
If best practice Board packs are a challenge for you, you can read our case studies on how other organisations have tackled the issue of pack production – creating more professional packs, and saving themselves time and money. You can read our case studies here.
Nothing in this document should be treated as an authoritative statement of the law. Action should not be taken as a result of this document alone. We make no warranty and accept no responsibility for consequences arising from relying on this document.