Want to run successful board meetings? Here are some top topics of discussion

10 min read

Sara Hatfield

Picture of Sarah Hatfield loving life

There are many issues associated with running a successful board meeting. But one that is often neglected is the best topics to actually discuss. This can be overlooked in favor of other aspects of the meeting, but if the most important aspects of your organization aren't addressed, you can hardly hope to have a successful meeting.

So in this article, we're going to outline some suggestions regarding important board meeting topics.

Why are meeting topics important?

Creating a structured set of topics for your meeting is much more likely to result in favorable outcomes from the process. And it's also important to ensure that everyone is engaged during meetings. With this in mind, creating regular topics and a firm structure for your meetings will tend to result in better discussion and outcomes.

Call to Order

Before getting into the important points of the meeting, many board meetings begin with a simple call to order. This can incorporate welcoming remarks and the objectives of the meeting, as well as noting the date, time and relevant location. This is undoubtedly the easiest thing to add to any agenda, and should only take a matter of a couple of minutes at most.

Once this call to order has been completed, the facilitator or chair of the meeting can then move on to the more important aspects of the agenda.

Agreeing Previous Minutes

In line with the agreement of goals from the previous meeting is the agreement of minutes associated with it.

This can be a critical item, as there can be disagreements over previous meetings, and this can render the minutes associated with them to be worthless. Everyone should be in agreement on meeting minutes. And it is therefore important to establish this, particularly if you are attempting to create a cyclical process across multiple meetings.

Reviewing Previous Minutes

You should make space in the agenda for the board secretary to read the meeting minutes from the previous meeting, and for those present to make comments where necessary. If any changes do need to be made, this should take place with the permission of those at present before the meeting advances any further

It is surprising how often this can be excluded from the process, as organizations wish to push ahead with addressing pressing matters for the future. When dealing with previous meeting minutes, it's important to officially ratify them, and conclude the process with any pending agendas that have been left over from the previous meeting. By creating this continuity from one meeting to the next, you ultimately help craft a joined-up process, and this is far more likely to achieve successful outcomes.

Adjustments to the Agenda

Any board chair should establish whether there have been any alterations to the published agenda ahead of the meeting. A space should be left in the agenda to address this, as briefly as possible.

In many cases, there will be no changes to the agenda, and this will pass without comment. But there can be scenarios in which new information has come to light, between the time that the agenda was published and the meeting being held. It is therefore definitely important to take this into consideration.

Additionally, some of the attendees may request changes to the agenda, and these should also form part of the process. Once everything has been adjusted it is then possible to move on to meatier parts of the meeting.

Old Business

At this point, it's critical to revisit any items from previous meetings that have been left unresolved. While in an ideal world, everything would be dealt with, this isn't always possible. And it is therefore always important to note in the meetings and agenda, whether there are points or issues that have yet to be adequately resolved.

This is the ideal time to return to conversations that were paused during previous meetings, votes that were deadlocked, or other issues that hadn't been dealt with appropriately. It's important to leave space in the agenda to table certain items for the next meeting, or pass them off to suitable committees or groups to handle outside of the board meeting context.

New Business

Once you've dealt with the old business and adequately resolved everything, you can move on to anything that is new for the existing board meeting. This is your opportunity to decide the next steps and meeting action items involved. Your agenda should leave plenty of room for debate and discussion for this section of the meeting, because this is really the meat and potatoes of board meetings.

Voting is often important as part of this process, and time and space should be allowed to finalize decisions. You can also adjust items, table them, postpone them, or send them to other groups and committees for further discussion.

Strategic Discussions

Data provided by research firms indicate that involving directors and executives in strategic dialogue discussions boosts effectiveness across an organization. It is therefore worthwhile to ensure that board meetings always deal with relevant and important discussions.

Strategy is, therefore, an important overarching aspect of any board meeting. When McKinsey surveyed a raft of executives, two-thirds of those interviewed indicated that they preferred to spend additional time in board meetings discussing strategy. This underlines the importance of these aspects of any board meeting, and demonstrates that finalizing topics ahead of the meeting can be particularly valuable. By addressing strategic issues in board meetings, it is communicated to directors that expert input is really valuable.

However, ensuring that board meetings deliver relevant content can involve important cultural change within your organization. This is especially true if your organization is evolving, or adjusting to a more inclusive working culture. And it is, therefore, important to have a raft of topics in place for each and every board meeting.

Strategic discussion can go into some complex and involved topic areas. So, here are a few suggestions.

What is asset liability management? How can we use asset liability management as a planning tool? What are the risks and benefits of lending? What is the future outlook of the markets? What is the effect of legislation in our industry? Do we have a strong plan in place or disaster recovery? What are we doing to encourage growth? Is fraud having a major impact on our business? How should we choose to measure service quality? How do we match up to our competitors?

Answering these sorts of questions will always provide useful information that can be used to make decisions and forge your direction strategically.

Addressing Past Performance Reports

Organizational reports are common across a variety of organizations, and these can be extremely insightful for the executive phalanx of your company. Organizational reports often detail critical developments in the business, and provide vital information on how the organization is performing, and indeed how it can do this better.

By reviewing these reports during board meetings, your most important personnel can assess key performance indicators, including sales, market share segmentation, revenues, and expenditures, as well as setting new targets. Often metrics such as customer satisfaction, research and development, marketing, and expansion projects can also be delved into, and this can be a critical and valuable part of any board meeting.

Future Strategies

The past, present and future triumvirate is completed by assessing strategies going forward. Board meetings are indeed all about strategizing the future direction of companies, and, thus, this is one of the most important aspects of any board meeting.

Once past performance and the current situation have been properly assessed, it is only natural to wonder what direction the organization will take in the future. This can often be based on suggestions provided by corporate management, but sometimes new ideas will even originate during the board meeting itself.

This discussion tends to focus on the pros and cons of various decisions, but it's important to formulate both short-term and longer-term objectives during the process.

Approving Corporate Actions.

Executive boards are by their very nature composed of some of the most important people in the organization. And this makes them the ideal venue to recommend and approve plans of action for management. This can help shape the entire direction of an organization, considering that the board is ultimately in charge of overall governance decisions.

Once comprehensive discussions have taken place on a particular issue, board members can create resolutions that can then carry forward into future meetings. This creates a well-rounded and secure process which ensures that the organization is always heading in a productive direction. It is also repeatable from one meeting to the next, in itself cementing working culture in the organization.

Procedures and Protocols

This particular suggestion can be less requisite for smaller companies, but larger organizations will definitely benefit from reviewing their procedures and protocols on a regular basis.

Bigger organizations often have bigger boards, and this can lead to more formal procedures. It is therefore valuable to review these on a regular basis, in order to ensure that conversation remains polite and civil, and that the meetings run in a productive way.

Common rules include ensuring that only one person speaks at a time, giving the chair of the board power over who has the right to speak, and limiting vulgar and unpleasant language, along with attacks on the members of the board. One interesting precedent here is the so-called Robert's Rules of Order, which provide a technical management manual for conducting cohesive meetings.

Verbal Reports

This is an important section of any board meeting agenda. Several of those members present can provide important updates on a variety of different subjects. These subjects should be written into the agenda before the meeting begins.

Executive directors will typically be involved in some of the earlier reports, with finance directors and nominating committees also commonly speaking. Those present may also hear reports from the programme committee or public relations committee, depending on the size and scope of the organization.

This can be considered one of the more flexible aspects of a board meeting and should definitely be tweaked according to the requirements and personnel involved with your organization.

Comments and Announcements

In this section of your board meeting agenda, you will leave space for special announcements, congratulations, and reminders. This is a freeform part of the meeting in which any board member can suggest agenda items ,and the organization can essentially pat itself on the back for its recent performance and attainment.

Concluding the Meeting

Once you have discussed and documented every open issue or new business item, your meeting should be adjourned formally. Everyone that has attended should be acknowledged and thanked, while the ending time should be stated, so this can be added to the meeting minutes. One final formality should be to inform everyone present of the date of the next meeting.

Implementing BoardShape

Another way to improve your board meetings is to sign up for the innovative BoardShape system. BoardShape makes meetings simple by organizing, running, and finalizing every aspect of your meeting automatically.

BoardShape makes it possible to invite board members, provide scheduling choices, and distribute documents ahead of the meeting. With an array of flexible payment packages available, BoardShape helps ensure that your board meetings are well-organized and run according to plan.

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