Running a board meeting appears to be a relatively simple undertaking, yet it is easy to make basic errors that can render them unsuccessful events. If you fail to instigate best practices, those attending the meeting may not take away important information, or may even become frustrated with the process.
So in this article we're going to outline twelve of the most common mistakes that companies make when running meetings, so that you can avoid them in the future.
1. Inviting too many participants
The first common error that many companies and organizations make is to simply invite too many people. There are so many important individuals working within your organization that it can seem natural to include as many as possible in the board of directors. However, it's generally advisable to limit the board to around 7-8 people.
Two of the biggest and most successful companies in the world, Netflix and Apple, fit within these parameters, with Netflix having 7 directors participating in each board meeting and Apple 8 in total. If companies of this size can limit their board meetings, there is no reason that any other organization should do differently.
2. Failing to create a diverse board
One issue that we've all read about in the media is a lack of diversity in the executive hierarchy of many organizations. It has been a very common practice to fail to include a wide variety of people in board meetings, with a particular emphasis on, and over-representation of, white middle-aged men. This is a mistake, as hearing from a range of disparate voices means that board meetings are much more likely to be representative of a broad cross-section of society. This can only aid the ultimate performance of companies and organizations, ensuring that they can be aligned with an array of contemporary voices.
3. Holding too many meetings
Another common error is simply to hold board meetings far too regularly. It can be tempting to call together all of your executives and directors on a regular basis, and it often feels productive to have your brightest and best minds working towards solving important issues.
But there is definitely such a thing as overkill. Everyone involved with board meetings is busy by their very nature, and this means that they won't necessarily appreciate being called in for a meeting at every available opportunity. You should strike a compromise between too often and not often enough, while attempting to stick to a schedule as much as possible.
4. Insufficient planning
Planning is important in any board meeting yet. Yet it is surprising how often this is neglected. It pays to be organized, and there are several elements to this organization. You should firstly distribute invites well ahead of the meeting in order to ensure that everyone can confirm their availability. Prepare and distribute an agenda well ahead of the meeting date as well, so that everyone knows where they stand with the board meeting.
And if technology is involved, ensure that this is all working adequately before the meeting takes place. Make materials available, and distribute the minutes as soon as they are written. If you put all of these things together, you will have demonstrated respect to everyone involved, and therefore set yourself up for a much greater chance of running a successful meeting.
5. Being boring
What is the number one complaint that people tend to have about board meetings? Or even just meetings generally? They are boring! Even just the phrase ‘board meeting’ creates an unpleasant mental image of a dry, stuffy affair, with people droning on endlessly about subjects that no one cares about, while everyone else yawns and tries to stay awake!
Of course, it doesn't have to be this way. Yes, there are often serious issues that need to be addressed, and some of these need to be examined in granular fashion. But it's also possible to ensure that board meetings are enjoyable and relevant as well. You can create a positive spin to the occasion by sharing success stories. And if you ensure that meetings aren't excessively lengthy, you will make the experience so much more enjoyable for everyone who has been gracious enough to attend.
6. Surprising participants with unplanned material
On the other hand, while it is good for meetings to have a positive, enthusiastic and even creative milieu, unexpected surprises are not necessarily welcome. A successful board meeting is all about structure. And anything that takes people away from this structured agenda can tend to lead to waffle and unproductive conversations.
Keeping things relevant can mean steering the conversation in a certain direction at times, which falls upon the chair of the meeting. But distributing material intended for reading ahead of the meeting is another best practice that can help keep things on track. After all, there's nothing more frustrating than being in a board meeting and sitting around while people read important documents for 10 minutes, particularly if they could have received them ahead of the event.
7. Poor timekeeping
This is a simple point, but an important one. You should always attempt to stick to the timing of meetings as much as possible. This should be agreed well before the meeting begins, and then it should be considered sacrosanct once the meeting gets underway.
If you create a schedule for a board meeting, then there is a reason that you have done this. You haven’t done it so that you can overrun for ages on certain topics, and then cram the remainder into a reduced period of time. You should therefore consider the agenda document to be meaningful, and respect what has been written in it.
Above all else, overrunning by a significant period of time should definitely be avoided, as everyone present is busy, and certainly have other important tasks that they will wish to address. The bottom line here is respecting everyone involved, as well as the effort that has gone into creating a schedule.
8. Failing to be sufficiently honest
When we think of board meetings, we often conjure up the impression conveyed by television and cinema of people speaking. with unflinching honesty.
However, this isn't a realistic portrayal of what board meetings are actually like. Far too often, people that attend board meetings either hold back important information, or else those running the meeting attempt to put an unduly positive spin on everything involved.
This is counter-productive, particularly if a board meeting fails to address the most important issue or issues, simply because it was left to last in order to present a positive outlook on the company. Quite simply, everyone involved in a board meeting should be encouraged to be as honest as possible, even if this can be a slightly painful process at times. In the long run, this will pay off, as the whole raison d'etre for a board meeting is simply to get to the bottom of the most important issues and craft revolutions going forward.
9. Failing to take minutes seriously
The minutes of a meeting are always critically important, as they provide a record of everything that occurred, which can be a critical point of reference going forward. However, it is surprising how often the meeting minutes are neglected, or at least insufficient attention is invested in ensuring that they deliver everything required.
Minutes should capture everything. All action points and summarized agreements, accurately summarizing the next steps, while always remaining precise and succinct. Excellent minutes are not superfluous and lengthy documents, but they do include everything of importance concisely, while jettisoning anything that is unnecessary or of little importance.
Assigning the role of minute taker is also a critical part of this process. Ideally, there should be someone occupying this role on a regular basis, so that they can build up the skills associated with minute taking over a significant period of time.
10. Failing to comply with legal requirements
Another perhaps less immediately obvious aspect of board meetings is that they must comply with certain legal requirements. This is significant regardless of the nature of the company. But it can become more logistically complicated within multinationals, as sometimes these meetings can take place across multiple nations. And with people joining the meeting via Zoom calls from different countries, this can be something of a legal minefield.
It’s thus important to ensure that you are aware of all legal requirements before the meeting begins, and that you comply with these at all times. As mentioned in the previous point, minutes are undoubtedly an important part of this process. But getting together some of your top legal minds and ensuring that you're ahead of the curve on this matter is definitely to be recommended.
11. No communication between meetings
Communicating between meetings is also extremely important. This doesn't need to be anything extensive, but it is important to convey all of the important points related to the meeting, so that everyone is on the same page with solutions. Don't be afraid to call your directors any time that you need their advice or to take advantage of their personal networks. If you limit your interaction with these critical personnel within your company, you also limit your ability to take advantage of their expertise and insight.
Leveraging your directors as resources on a regular basis can also help your company or organization ensure that they feel more valued, and are therefore more open with their opinions when board meetings finally roll around. This can only be positive for the credibility and content of board meetings within the organziation.
12. No attempt to follow-up after the meeting
Finally, many companies make the mistake of assuming that the board meeting itself is the be all and the end all of the process. In fact, following up after a board meeting can actually be as important as the meeting itself.
One particularly nice touch is to send a message of thanks to anyone involved in the board meeting, particularly if they are present on a voluntary basis. You can also take the time to highlight upcoming events and programmes that are of particular relevance to the board members, and even send out surveys to garner important feedback on the success or otherwise of the meeting.
Self-assessment is a vital tool in helping you to plan more productive meetings going forward, so this should never be neglected. If you can keep participants engaged then you're likely to create an improved decision-making process, and open and two-way communication is a big part of achieving this
Use BoardShape to organize your meeting
One final thing that you can do to ensure that your board meeting runs smoothly is to utilise the BoardShape software. Our web-based application makes it much easier to run your board or committee, ensuring that everyone involved has an enjoyable and productive experience. BoardShape makes it easier to distribute invites, finalize the details of the board meeting, and add all necessary documents. It removes the headache from arranging a board meeting, resulting in a much better chance of a favorable outcome for everyone involved.