How to Make the Most of Board Meetings

This resource is meant for both for-profits and non-profits. While the mission of each may be different, the purpose of a board of directors is the same: to support decision-making that maximizes the impact and resilience of an organization. CEOs run organizations, not boards.

What decisions do board of directors make?

As stewards, the board is responsible for the leadership and financial integrity of an organization. They vote and decide who is designated as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) to lead and operate the organization. They also vote and decide on key financial matters like the operating budget, compensation for executives, material strategic agreements, and financings.

But what’s the difference between a good board and an excellent board? The use of the time spent together.

How do board meetings happen?

Board meetings often happen quarterly. But they can also happen at different cadences or ad hoc if needed. What’s key is that they match the rhythm of your business. The ingredients for a successful meeting are: the people, the context, and the medium.

Who is on the board?

Boards are usually made up of the CEO, investors, and strategic advisors. The size and makeup of the board is decided when the organization is created. Often it is expanded when an organization raises money.

What are board materials?

All the materials prepared for a board meeting should be useful to the leadership team assembling it. What is even better is if the materials are existing charts, slides, and spreadsheets that have already been created for the day-to-day management of the organization.

I have found a powerful addition to the board deck is 2-3 page narrative written by the CEO summarizing the state of the organization (highlights and lowlights) and the key decisions that need to be made at the meeting.

The accompanying deck includes:

Not all slides have to be presented. They can be provided in an Appendix. Or you can weave them into the larger deck and place a star in the top corner for the ones that you are planning on presenting, and include the others as additional context for board members.

For startups: When your organization is just starting out, a slide deck may feel overwhelming to create. Skip slides and try presenting the material you would have put into a deck as a longer memo. It will encourage you to write clearly and not wrestle with slide designs.

What should happen during the meeting?

The meeting is the CEO’s meeting to drive. They will be the master of ceremonies guiding the meeting from start to finish. It is their responsibility to get the board focused on the issues that matter.

There is no perfect length to a board meeting. Shorter tends to be better because of meeting exhaustion. It needs to be just the right length to spend time on the key topics and creating the right space for your board members to engage to the fullest. 

A structured agenda helps keep the meeting on track. Dedicate time for strategic topics where you need your board to engage. 

While it is natural for a board to provide pressure on the CEO and management, it is critical that they do not prescribe. The board should not be setting the plan for the organization, it is the responsibility of the management team and their commitment and ownership of it.

The small details…

These are some of the practices I’ve seen done over the years that work really well:

What contributes to a bad board meeting?

Often, no one thing can sabotage a board meeting. It’s usually a set of small issues that compound and ruin the gathering. Below is a list of offenses that you can work to avoid:

What else would be useful?

This resource is a compilation of answers that I’ve given during office hours at and to the founders I have been fortunate to work with. If you have other questions just ask!