May 12 2022

A Couple Tweaks to Running Great Board Meetings

I love innovation, and process is no different than product or business model in that regard. I’ve run and attended several hundred board meetings over the years, both those of companies where I’ve been CEO or Chairman, and those where I’m a director. I’ve written a lot about how I like running board meetings in Startup CEO, and as I mentioned the other day, I’m a co-author of a Second Edition of Startup Boards: A Field Guide to Building and Leading an Effective Board of Directors, which is coming out in June and is available to pre-order now, along with Brad Feld and Mahendra Ramsinghani.

There are two adaptations I’ve made to my standard board routines in the last year or so, one driven by the pandemic and one not.

In olden times (that makes me sound like I’m 400 years old, but “pre-covid” sounds so clinical), I used to have a board dinner the night before or after every board meeting, and of course, everything was in person. That was a really important ritual in my mind towards the end of building the board as an effective team, where people on the team know each other as people, share things going on in their lives, share vulnerabilities, and develop bonds of trust. Without regular in-person meetings and dinners or social events, that gets a lot harder. Even when we get back to “normal,” I imagine the most we’ll do in-person board meetings is 1-2x/year.

What’s the zoom version of this?

We now do two 30-minute Executive Sessions (directors only) one before the board meeting officially starts and observers and team join, as well as the traditional one after the meeting ends. The purposes of the two sessions are different. The standard post-meeting Executive Session follows up on the meeting and has me talk about business or team issues that I don’t want to talk about with the full group present or get feedback from the board. But the one before the meeting is almost entirely social. I try to come up with a different question or topic to get all of us talking that is not about Bolster. Last week’s meeting was a simple “what’s the best thing that’s happened to you so far in 2022, and what’s the worse?” One time I asked everyone to show a picture from their phone photo roll and talk about it. You get the idea. It’s not the same as a dinner, but it seems like an effective substitute given the medium.

The second adaptation, and full credit to Fred for suggesting this one a while back, is the post-meeting survey. Now immediately after every Board meeting, I send a simple Google form to each director with the following questions:

  • What are 1-3 areas/specifics where we are doing well?
  • What are 1-3 areas/specifics you’re concerned about or where we could do better?
  • Did the board book have the right level of detail and commentary?  Is there anything you’d like to see change about the format or the content?
  • Did the meeting meet your objectives for learning and discussion? 
  • If not, why not?
  • Do you have any other feedback for Matt at this time?

I get great feedback, almost immediately and always from all board members, while things are still fresh in everyone’s mind. I’m planning to do this whether or not the meeting is remote…although it’s definitely good when the meeting is remote, and things like Executive Session, Closed Session, and debrief with me after Closed Session are quick or sometimes rushed.

There’s always room for innovation, even in standard and time-tested processes like board meetings.