Board meeting on a specific agenda

One Agenda Change That Can Transform Your Company Board Meeting

by May 7, 2024Board of Directors, Decision Making, Growth

Drawing from my extensive experience serving on multiple company boards, I can attest to the range of board meetings I’ve encountered. Some have been exciting and highly impactful, while others have been as dull as watching paint dry.

Whenever I was in one of those boring meetings, I asked myself: Why am I wasting my time here? I also secretly wondered if the management team felt the same way.

The issue is that board meetings can be treated as rubber-stamping sessions where the only action is the CEO or management team members reporting to the board. Death by PowerPoint is a real thing.

That’s a waste of everyone’s time.

The question, then, is how to conduct a board meeting that engages board members in impactful ways for the management team and company.

Let’s examine one change you can make to elevate your board meetings.

The Purpose of a Board

It’s worth stating the purpose of a board in the first place. A board serves the interests of the shareholders and the company as a whole. Its responsibilities also include:

  • Not creating strategy, but pressure testing it with good questions
  • Ensuring there is a steady flow of talent into the organization and that there is also a talent development plan in place
  • Ensuring the company doesn’t do anything crazy that drives it off a cliff by managing risk

However, too many board meetings are treated simply as information dumps by the CEO and management team on the board. It’s usually asking for approval for things like the minutes from the prior meeting, a review of financial performance, and a superficial discussion of the company’s growth strategy. It can feel like the management team wants credit for their hard work, mainly when the results aren’t up to target.

In other words, you’re not taking full advantage of your board by running your meeting this way. You’re not leveraging them to create any value.

Rethinking Your Agenda

I encourage you to throw out the board meeting agendas you’ve used in the past and consider a few suggestions for running the meetings differently.

The one significant change you can make to your agenda is to shift away from reporting what’s already happened and focus more on creating a free-flowing dialogue about the company’s strategy and risk factors going forward.

Pick one or two significant topics and then spend an hour or two discussing each topic. Of course, a briefing document is needed to frame the question so the board can engage properly. But this document should not be more than five pages long. If you need more space than that, the thinking is not clear. These strategic topics should be given plenty of time, even if you must use an omnibus agreement on the governance items people read in advance.

Look for what I call in my book Great CEOs Are Lazy “points of constraint” that are holding the organization back and affecting the quality of the business. Examples might include:

  • Pending acquisitions
  • An expansion of the sales team
  • Launching an expensive new product

Your goal as a CEO should be to enable your board members to weigh in on the topic at hand in a way that leverages their experience. Encourage board members to ask questions and make suggestions. They should also encourage the management team if they believe the company is headed in the right direction and adequately managing the risks.

Again, the opportunity is to discuss one or two items of critical strategic importance to the organization. That means all the other items get compressed into the available time, not the other way around.

Leveraging Your Board

Many board meetings turn into a dog-and-pony show where management only seeks the board’s blessing on something they have already decided. This is a missed opportunity to leverage your board members’ strengths truly.

To help ensure that you make the most of your time with your board, consider the following tips:

1. Send the relevant information about the discussion topics to the board a week before the meeting so they can prepare.

2. During the board meeting, ensure that every board member gets the time to ask questions or make suggestions. The loudest board members will always make sure they are heard. Your goal is to ensure that even the quiet ones have the opportunity to share what might become a pearl of brilliance.

3. Ensure you have scheduled enough time for honest dialogue and to hear the board’s recommendations. It would be best if you had time to ensure the group gets the chance to debate and think deeply about the topic on your way to coming up with the best possible answer.

Making It Worthwhile

The steps I’ve outlined above can help ensure you fully engage your board and not put anyone to sleep. More important, the board’s time on the significant items increases. After all, why are you spending all that time and money on hosting your board, especially if they’ve traveled to the meeting and if you’re not interested in anything they have to say?

So, rather than wasting anyone’s time, rethink your board meeting agenda and schedule the strategic stuff first so that it’s a worthwhile investment for everyone involved.