Our top 10 tips for running successful board meetings

11 min read

Sara Hatfield

Picture of Sarah Hatfield loving life

Running successful board meetings is extremely important in everything from the smallest businesses (SMEs) to multinational corporations. Your board of directors are the standard bearers for the entire company, and thus the occasions where they get together to communicate set the tone for the entire organisation. If you don't run successful board meetings, your organisation will struggle to meet its mission, ensure its financial stability, and even survive.

Unfortunately, many organisations completely fail to run competent board meetings. This is due to a variety of reasons, but perhaps the most important is that they simply don't know what a good board meeting looks like. They fail to prepare properly and don't give satisfactory thought to what they hope to achieve from such meetings.

But running a successful board meeting isn't necessarily that difficult if you simply prepare and consider the following simple steps.

1. Set out your agenda beforehand

Speaking of preparation, sending the agenda out to all participants ahead of the meeting is vitally important. This ensures that all participants are afforded the opportunity to consider anything that they may wish to raise ahead of the meeting. This step becomes particularly important at quarterly or annual meetings, which may last for a significant period of time, and that obviously don't occur with regularity.

It's also helpful to attach relevant information such as reports and financial statements in order to provide the most background information to participants, commonly referred to as the board pack.

2. Be punctual

The next step in running a successful business meeting is relatively straightforward - ensure that you begin the meeting on time. It is easy to allow meetings to slide for a variety of reasons, but this is effectively disrespectful to the participants, and often creates problems. Starting late gets the meeting off on completely the wrong footing.

Equally important is to assign a time slot for the meeting and stick to this figure. It is tempting to go on endlessly, ensuring that you leave no stone unturned. But, again, this is disrespectful to participants, as they may have other arrangements, and are no doubt busy with other aspects of their work.

Plus, if the meeting is for a non-profit then these volunteers are giving their time generously, and have other jobs! Overall, exceeding the arranged duration of a meeting can create bad feelings and ultimately diminish its success.

3. Assign someone to take minutes ahead of the meeting

The minutes of a meeting are extremely important, as they provide an indelible record of what actually occurred. If you don't have accurate meeting minutes, the whole meeting is left open to interpretation.

It should also be noted that diversity and inclusivity are important. We will be covering this in a future post, but let’s start out by saying this - don’t automatically assume that the minute-taker must be female!

Despite this, many organisations neglect the taking of minutes, believing it to be trivial to carry out, or of no real importance. This attitude should be avoided, as nothing could be further from the truth.

Someone should be assigned the job of taking the minutes well ahead of the meeting. They should also be provided with any support and information that will assist with the process. The more that you invest in taking minutes, the more that the participants are likely to derive from the meeting. And this can be particularly important if there are any major areas of disagreement.

Once a meeting has concluded, minutes should be circulated to all participants as quickly as possible, for reference purposes and also to invite comment.

4. The role of the chairperson is vital

The chairperson of any meeting is critical. The role of the chairperson is central in running an efficient board meeting, as they are responsible for steering the process, and thus have the most influence on whether or not the meeting is functional.

Whoever is appointed chairperson should be actively involved in deciding the final content of the agenda, although typically managing directors and other executives can also be consulted, particularly on sensitive issues, or those requiring expertise. Time should be allocated to the agenda based on the importance of the items involved, and it's important to encourage open discussions by introducing each item on the list in a balanced and positive fashion.

People that are quieter or haven't contributed to the meeting should be actively encouraged to offer their opinion. And the chairperson also has the responsibility of ensuring that no one person dominates the discussion. Equally, this has to be balanced against seeking expert opinion when there are particularly technical matters to be discussed.

Finally, the role of a chairperson encompasses checking with everyone at the end of the meeting to ensure that there are no misunderstandings, and that nothing of importance has been omitted. The role of the chairperson shouldn't be underestimated, as it really is central to the functional running of the meeting.

5. Focus on strategy

Focusing on strategy is always an important aspect of business meetings, as this essentially creates a path forward, as opposed to dwelling on things that have already occurred. Of course, it's sometimes necessary to go over issues that have already arisen. But the fundamental aim of the majority of business meetings is to craft a future direction.

It should also be acknowledged that every organisation is different, and the size, resources and modus operandi of your business or non-profit can greatly influence the direction of board meetings. But if you keep the board meeting focused on the goals, missions and strategic planning of an organisation, you won't go far wrong in creating an environment for the meeting that is productive and relevant.

6. Stick to the agenda

You should always stick to the agenda! One massive problem in virtually all meetings is that there tends to be something of a mission creep. Almost inevitably, at least one person will go off on a tangent, and this can then prompt others to join in. Before you know it, you're discussing something that has absolutely no relevance to the agenda, and effectively wasting time.

This can be critically important, as it may mean that you never resolve some of the items on the agenda, and your meeting ultimately fails to address critical issues. It is therefore important, and this is primarily incumbent on the chairperson, to ensure that the meeting sticks to the agenda. This doesn't have to be done with a draconian level of strictness. But discussions that waver off on a meandering path that has nothing to do with the agenda should definitely be nipped in the bud, and the meeting steered back in the right direction.

7. Outline delegation of duties

Outlining the delegation of duties is at the heart of any successful business meeting. And this is another area where planning ahead and communicating with people can really make a difference.

Ensure that everyone who is attending the meeting is familiar with their responsibilities. They may have no greater responsibility than to simply sit there, listen and give their opinion; in which case it’s perfectly fine to tell them this. Conversely, some people will have very specific roles to play at the meeting. And it's advisable to agree on these beforehand, in order to ensure that any issues are discussed ahead of the meeting.

One popular role is that of board champion - a board member who will promote a specific project or task at the meeting. Other prominent roles include treasurers, secretaries, etc. And it's definitely beneficial to ensure that everyone has their role nailed down before they attend the meeting, rather than attempting to work it out ad hoc during the meeting itself.

8. Build a convivial team atmosphere

This is a little trickier than some of the other points included in this article, but it should still be considered essential. Most of the points made previously are simple and practical to implement. But creating a team atmosphere, while more difficult to envisage, is worthwhile.

Ultimately, board members are generally generous and passionate people who volunteer their time because they believe in the direction of an organisation. It is therefore valuable to indeed make them feel valued.

There are various ways that you can do this. Little touches such as providing snacks and drinks can be worthwhile. Ensure that the room is comfortable, well-ventilated, and a pleasant environment in which to spend time. Provide clear ways that participants can make an impact, encourage healthy conversation, and foster an atmosphere and culture of inclusivity.

These steps will help anyone participating in the meeting to enjoy the experience, and this can only lead to improved discussion and outcomes.

9. Keep it Light

Board meetings can definitely be heavy affairs. I'm sure we've all had the experience of sitting in what appears to be an unending meeting, hearing people drone on incessantly about extremely dry topics, while you wish that the ground would open up and swallow you! This is something that you wish to avoid.

So, where possible, it's always advisable to keep the tone of the meeting as light as possible. Try to encourage people to be relaxed, and even use humour when appropriate. Of course, board meetings sometimes have to deal with complex, dry and even thorny issues, and these cannot be ducked. But the way that you present them can have a big impact on how they are perceived. And this can make all the difference in the ultimate outcome of the meeting.

Similarly, a simple effort such as creating a seating plan that helps to draw everyone into the discussion can help foster this lighter tone in the meeting. Suddenly, the event feels more like a two-way and participatory environment, rather than a group of people being lectured by someone.

10. Agree on future meeting dates

One final aspect of any meeting - and this can undoubtedly be included in the agenda - is to agree on the date of future meetings at the end of the current meeting.

This can be particularly important in a large company, or if there are a significant number of people attending the meeting. Such information can undoubtedly be disseminated via electronic means, but keeping everyone in the loop and ensuring that no-one slips through the net is often difficult, if not impossible.

If you agree, a future date for the next meeting at the meeting itself then everyone knows where they stand, and can immediately put the date in their diaries. This can then create a virtuous circle for meetings going forward, making the entire process one that is coherent and joined-up.

Advantages of automated software

One final point that everyone running a meeting can benefit from is using an automated software system, such as This straightforward and task-focussed product enables you to get your board in shape, immediately removing all the hassle of organising board meetings and committees, with an easy web-based application.

The ethos at the heart of BoardShape is the notion that running your board or committee shouldn't be a subject of frustration. BoardShape helps you get your board organised, inviting members, adding important details, and providing everyone involved with information regarding upcoming and past board meetings. It creates an intuitive process that ensures all of the important information from board meetings is disseminated effectively.

Build an effective agenda, schedule meetings more effectively, and lessen the headache of getting all of the important people in the same room at the same time. BoardShape also makes it possible to finalise board meetings by circulating all required documents, while adding electronic signing for anyone that needs to approve decisions.

In summary, creating an effective board meeting is essentially about cultivating a culture of preparation and inclusivity. This is also allied to ensuring that the meeting stays on track and never becomes too dry, boring or intimidating, making everyone feel welcome, and keeping them fully updated. And there is no better way to do this than by using the software.

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