In the first blog in this series we looked at Board Reports and how Founders can leverage their Board with a well structured, focused report that helps them to zoom in hard on the issues that need discussing.
The Report provides the data and info required to run an effective Board Meeting and to give your Board the tools that they need to help you.
That leads us neatly onto the second blog in this series – which is all about running an effective Board Meeting.
Why do I need to worry about Board Meetings?
Your Board Meeting is the single most important event in the diary for working with your Board.
It’s the forum through which you bring your Board up to speed with the progress your company is making, and for getting their input on the big strategic issues that you need to work through.
And also let’s not forget, the NEDs on your Board have invested their cash or their company’s cash in your business, so you have a duty as Founder not just to keep them abreast of how you are spending their money, but also to keep them onside and aligned with your strategy and tactics. Running an effective Board Meeting is all part of this process.
Here are our five top tips to run an effective Board Meeting:
Get the right info to your Board. And on time, too
We talked in the first blog about the importance of structuring your Board Report and we’re going to very quickly revisit the key points from that blog.
The Board Report is for the Board – it needs to be pitched at the right level (so don’t stuff it full of management data) – and its structure needs to reflect the structure of the Board Meeting itself.
This means: keep the info in three sections – housekeeping (including Founder’s report, the functional reports and the Notion Metrics), strategic discussions and finish off with procedural matters.
Make sure you know all the numbers backwards and if you can’t explain something, find someone in your team who can explain it to you. Nothing breeds worry faster in investors’ minds than a Founder who doesn’t know their business.
You need to get the Board Report out in good time – at least five days before the Board meets so they have time to digest the information.
Make sure you get your pre-meeting work done.
Ahead of the meeting you need to think about what outcomes you want from the Board and how you should go about achieving those outcomes.
A golden rule for getting consensus from the Board on something you want is: no surprises and no drama.
This means that you will need to have spoken to the Board (or at least the key decision influencers) and have gotten them onside before you actually meet in quorum: the hard work needs to be done beforehand.
This will have two key effects. The first is that you will find it easier to get your proposals approved in the Meeting itself. If you can have the conversation with key Board Members ahead of time, you can take their views into account, iterate your own thoughts and present a discussion in the Meeting that is already 90% agreed. You get what you want and the Board feels that their views have been taken into account.
The second effect is that you retain your credibility: you get your Board’s approval and you present as an in-control Founder because you’ve already neutralised the difficult questions.
Keep your meetings focused and to time
Board meetings should be no longer than three hours: any longer and you lose the attention of your attendees; any shorter and you risk missing the depth and richness of discussion.
To an extent it’s up to you to ensure that the Meeting stays tight and focused. You can do this by ensuring that the pre-work is of a consistently high quality and circulated on time, and that you’ve headed off the difficult discussions beforehand. The Board have no wish to spend more time than necessary on process or housekeeping which might easily have been done beforehand.
Keep the discussions on track and focused; don’t hesitate to suggest completing certain debates off-line if appropriate.
Finally if you do need a longer session split the day up – devote the morning to process and housekeeping, then strategy in the afternoon: it will keep everyone fresh but don’t do this every Meeting.
Structure is vital
In the first blog we suggested a three-way structure for Board Reports – housekeeping, then strategy, then procedure.
Try and keep the Meeting structured in the same way: housekeeping, then strategy then procedure.
Housekeeping should take no longer than 30% of the time; strategy should not be any less than 50%, and procedure should be at the end.
So if you’re allocating three hours to your Board Meeting, consider spending no longer than forty-five minutes to an hour on housekeeping, strategy a couple of hours and procedure fifteen minutes at the end.
Don’t overdo it – too many and they get stale.
The tendency to have a monthly Board Meeting is high amongst early stage start-ups. However, frankly you probably won’t have enough material to fill the strategic discussions every month.
Consider full Board Meetings every couple of months with investor updates (i.e. housekeeping slides) issued in the intervening months.
Any more than this and your Board will get bored if there’s nothing to talk about.
Where can I get more information?
Notion’s SaaS Board Workshops are run for Founders to find out more on managing Boards – ask Notion to find out when the next workshop is scheduled.
There’s an excellent resource at Early Stage Tech Board which has a lot of detail and advice for Founders of early stage tech companies: http://earlystagetechboards.com
Mark Ellison (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a strategic partner of Notion and provides advice and consulting to Founders on working with Boards. Feel free to reach out to him for more information.
Blog produced in partnership with Mark Ellison at Tall Cedar Consulting.