If you dread the idea of board meetings as an early stage entrepreneur, you're not alone. There's the assumption that the meeting will be overly formal and that you will spend hours updating the board on every detail of the company. It doesn't sound like much fun.
It doesn't have to be that way. Board meetings don't have to bore you. With a little planning and preparation, you can cover the basics while also tapping into the skillsets of the members via strategic brainstorming so that the meeting also brings value to the company. Here are some tips on getting the most from your board meetings and members.
1. Meet regularly and send out an agenda and financials in advance
Look to the calendar year ahead and schedule the meetings in advance. I recommend holding meetings monthly or every six weeks or so. Your company's changing fast, so having a regularly scheduled meeting on the calendar ensures ongoing communication. It will also help to prevent board members being surprised about major changes in the business if they're always in-the-know. Make sure to work around holidays.
By sending out the agenda and financial details in advance, it puts the onus on the board members to arrive fully informed on the company's status. This eliminates the need to spend crucial time during the board meeting going through basic updates and a recap of the numbers. Additionally, it gives the board members time to process the information beforehand. They should arrive with helpful follow up questions and be thoughtful about their commentary.
2. Brainstorm about strategic challenges during the meeting
With the basic financials and updates sent out prior to the actual meeting, you can use the time during the meeting to brainstorm about strategic topics which you can also share in advance. Narrow the discussion to the three most important challenges facing your company. These issues could be opportunities (pros and cons of pursuing them), risks that keep you up at night, and/or areas where you need help. Be prepared to lead the discussion to make sure you're receiving valuable input.
Other topics for discussion could include your hiring needs, fundraising plans, and desired introductions. You could show a list of open positions and ask for recommendations for candidates. Similarly, if you're targeting specific investors for your next fundraise, you can share a list of names and ask for introductions. There may be other introductions of a strategic nature (e.g. potential partners, customers, vendors, etc.) that you'd like to highlight and ask your board for relevant connections.
3. Keep the meetings focused and give your board follow up items
While brainstorming, make sure to keep an eye on timing so that the discussions are efficient. Manage expectations in advance and keep the meeting to two hours if possible. Request that board members stay off their phones and engaged in the topic at hand. It's up to you to reign in the conversation when necessary and to move on to the next topic if the conversation strays too far from the agenda.
Keep track of the suggestions board members make when brainstorming, but don't just stop there. End the meeting with a recap of the to-do list for your members where they offered to be helpful, and make sure you highlight any relevant deadlines by which they should complete their tasks. They should make introductions and/or send you the information they referenced in the meeting shortly thereafter. Make sure to follow up with them after the meeting to ensure implementation of those items.
4. Further the relationships and advance your company
Being a board member is a tremendous responsibility and honor, no matter whether the individual was appointed directly by you or received the appointment as a negotiated term of their investment. More likely than not, you have incredibly talented and motivated people who want to be helpful. It's in everyone's best interest to make the most out of the meetings and to contribute to the best of their ability.
If you plan accordingly, board meetings can be more than just 'checking the box' to fulfill a legal requirement; they can provide a great deal of strategic value for you and your company. Not only will you find that the company will benefit from the above preparation, but you may just enhance your relationship with the members while you're at it. You and your board are aligned in wanting the company to be as successful as possible, so be prepared and don't let their motivation go to waste.