Board meetings are a critical strategic element in charting a course for nearly every business and organization, so by definition, they aren’t all that uncommon.
But a well-run board meeting — one that runs smoothly and efficiently and covers everything the organization needs to chart another quarter or year of successful growth — that kind of board meeting is much less common.
Running a board meeting well isn’t an easy task, and there isn’t exactly a playbook for how to succeed in this role.
In this article, we’ll provide you with 9 best practices that can improve the flow of your next board meeting, not to mention the results.
A clear written agenda is the key to any successful board meeting, so you’ll definitely want to invest in creating one. And be sure to create the agenda with plenty of time before the meeting is scheduled to occur.
Board members don’t like being blindsided in meetings any more than the rest of us.
Next, it pays to know the people on the board: how they think and communicate, what they enjoy, etc. The board meeting shouldn’t be the only time that leaders like the chair or CEO interact with the rest of the board.
If it is, you may encounter entirely avoidable conflicts or difficulties with open communication.
Next up, stick to that board meeting agenda as much as you can. Of course, the unexpected is always possible, but once you’ve sufficiently discussed that unplanned point, get back on track.
Assuming you created a high-quality agenda and distributed it ahead of time, you should expect some (if not all) to come prepared.
Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. They spent precious time preparing for the topics listed in the agenda, only to have the meeting veer off in an unfamiliar or unexpected direction. That’s a frustrating experience!
Data backs this up, too. One recent survey finds that, across all meeting types, off-topic conversations and one person dominating were the top two challenges.
The liaison or facilitator of the board meeting should always create a board book — a collection of documents such as reports and graphs that will guide board members through the agenda.
Think of the agenda as the table of contents, in a way. Each board book section should provide support materials for a corresponding agenda item.
You’ll want to deliver board books a few days before the board meeting (between when you distribute the agenda and the meeting date itself).
One more thing: Board “books” may or may not be physical books or binders these days. A cloud-based board book is a reasonable option.
Board books usually include analysis in the form of:
If your board meets virtually (an approach with a surprising number of upsides), you may be expected to create a virtual board book.
“Being able to do these meetings without the travel that goes with the traditional board meeting probably gave me more time in some ways to prepare and be focused,” said Dr. Helene Gayle, a member of the boards of Coca-Cola and Colgate Palmolive, to the Harvard Business Review.
We’ve already recommended that you stick to the agenda, but we know the reality of a free-flowing discussion. If discussing topics on the agenda leads to new, relevant topics, so be it.
But as the board chair or CEO, don’t be the one to throw in a surprise “topic bomb.”
Rehashing discussions from the previous board meeting may seem like a waste of time, and we don’t recommend doing so with every point (beyond potentially reviewing the minutes).
But sometimes, you’ll have carryover material from a previous high-level meeting.
In other words, if there was anything left hanging after your previous meeting, put it (back) on the agenda and discuss it this time.
Board meetings should move an organization forward, so numerous agenda items typically relate to new business.
Give this phase plenty of time and ensure that all new business material makes it onto the agenda.
Each new business item should lead to a decision, an action item, or a choice to follow up at the next meeting.
Board meetings produce quite a bit of conversation, but conversation alone doesn’t move an organization forward.
Here’s another place where a meeting tool like Range makes a big difference in your capabilities.
Multiple people can work simultaneously on building this content if desired, and it can be sent electronically to board members or shown on screen while the stakeholders and chairperson are still in the room.
The last step in effectively running board meetings is a clear adjournment within a reasonable time frame.
Allow enough time for robust discussion and be sure to follow parliamentary procedure (e.g., Robert’s Rules of Order) — but keep the meeting to a reasonable length.
If at all possible, adjourn the meeting at the expected time. Not every discussion is valuable enough to justify monopolizing the time of the busy, high-level leaders that comprise your business or nonprofit board.
Board meetings that deliver the most consistent results focus on the most important items. There will always be dozens of potential topics, concerns, or initiatives, but the most important conversations tend to involve three essential items.
How has the organization performed over the previous fiscal year?
Any significant changes to the status quo — whether positive or negative — should be surfaced for discussion.
While discussing organizational performance is crucial, avoid falling into the trap of simply reading reports or graphs out loud.
Your discussion of organizational performance should naturally lead to a discussion on strategies.
Look toward the future as well, for both underperforming and successful aspects of the business.
Make sure that the conclusions reached here don’t remain theoretical or intangible. Where possible, create at least a high-level plan for how the business will execute new strategies.
Often you’ll need to leave the detailed work to directors or other leaders. In those cases, simply note who those leaders are and who will communicate the new strategy and vision to them.
Key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics are the tools used to measure organizational performance and, to a degree, the success of current strategies. So any concrete discussion of performance and strategy must bring in the relevant KPIs and metrics.
Discuss existing KPIs in relation to performance and strategy. Then explore whether any new strategies you’ve identified require your organization to begin tracking additional KPIs or metrics.
You should always customize your board meeting agenda to meet your business's current needs.
Here’s what you’ll cover if you use our sample agenda template without modification.
⭐️ Use the free board meeting template in Range & invite your members.
This sample agenda is a place to start, but again, we know your specific needs may vary.
Hosting and running a board meeting that runs smoothly and meets all its objectives is a tall order.
The kinds of leaders that usually end up on boards can be hard to control, and you’ll always have more that you could cover than you have time to cover it.
Any tool that can help keep a board meeting on track and on time — while ensuring that you cover everything you need — is a worthwhile investment.
Range is a powerful meeting platform with an agenda builder for live meetings.
By building your agenda early and distributing it to all attendees, your board members will arrive better prepared. Range also enables you to send out meeting minutes automatically, and you can assign action items to attendees.
Best of all, we’ve already done the legwork for you by creating a board meeting agenda template for use with Range.
Open the template, make the necessary modifications, and start building your next board meeting agenda!
Whether you’re a nonprofit organization, a small startup, or a publicly traded enterprise, or somewhere in between, holding regular board meetings is crucial: Board meetings provide a regular, scheduled opportunity for directors, board members, and company executives to discuss recent, current, and future business issues, including growth, success, risks, and threats.
Board meetings set the direction for the upcoming term and refine or reshape the organization's strategic direction. They are the topmost leadership meetings, and every other initiative or strategic priority occurring in an organization should flow out of the decisions made and priorities set in board meetings.