A lot of the work of a good board takes place outside of the board meetings (see Tip #1), but the meetings are critical to overall effectiveness. It is the time when the team has the (mostly) undivided attention of the board members and when important decisions will be made (or at least influenced).
1. Schedule your board meetings well in advance, ideally for the entire next year. Most VCs are on multiple boards and have hectic schedules and the longer you wait, the harder it gets to have everyone attend. Insist on in-person attendance and don’t try to reschedule last minute (for large boards that is true even if it is at the request of a single board member, unless there is a super compelling reason to do so).
2. If you are an early stage startup, monthly board meetings are a good idea. A lof of stuff can and does happen in 4 weeks. Also, it often takes up to three board meetings for a major issue to go through the cycle of being noticed (board meeting 1), options being evaluated (board meeting 2), and a final decision being made (board meeting 3).
3. Start with a good board package. See Tip #2 for what should go into it and how to prepare it. If you followed the suggestions from that post, try to stick to the package and don’t let a director highjack the meeting. After all, you will have picked a big topic that you want to get through. So if someone wants to go off in a totally different direction, see if you can enlist the other board members in returning to plan. If everyone wants to go to the other topic then that will tell you that it is more important than the one you had picked.
4. Have team members who are not board members present. It is highly motivating to have direct exposure to the board. As the team grows, you may want to rotate folks through depending on the topic at hand instead of always having every team member present their area (meetings can run on too long if you do that).
5. Actively solicit input on decisions from every board member. Some people are oddly quiet in group meetings. Don’t assume that means they are in agreement with everything that is being said. Yes, it should be the directors responsibility to speak up but that doesn’t mean they will. So don’t be afraid to call on a director and ask them what they think. That is especially true for anybody dialing into a meeting.
6. Don’t be defensive when a board member makes a suggestion. You run the company and you cannot/shouldn’t do everything one board member says, but you should always listen to it and take it as one input to your decision making. Of course, if the entire board decides something, then it means you have to really work towards that (or you may find the board executing its ultimate responsibility).
7. Leave enough time for formal business so that you don’t need to rush through things like option grants. These may require a bit of discussion, especially early on before you have bands established. As the company matures and the board grows some of these should be discussed by a separate compensation committee and then presented to the larger board.
8. Encourage your board to occasionally hold an “executive session,” which despite the name means a board member only session without the management team and founders. You should assume that board members talk to each other outside of board meetings, but this facilitates an independent discussion of the your and the team’s performance, which is a critical role of the board.
9. Provide refreshments and have one or several short bio / phone / email breaks. If you announce these ahead of time, you may even succeed in reducing blackberry usage.
You will generally know if you had a productive board meeting or not, but it never hurts to ask for feedback. Often small changes can result in vastly improved meetings as no list of tips can account for the idiosyncratic preferences of your particular board.