6 strategies for running more effective startup board meetings

For many companies in the United States, a board of directors is a fact of doing business. While sole proprietorships and LLCs are not obligated to have one, C and S corporations must. The board’s goal is to ensure the best is done for the company and its shareholders. While many entrepreneurs see board meetings as a chore, they can be a powerful tool if used well.

Communicate often

While board meetings usually happen quarterly, it’s good practice to keep the conversation going in between them. Sending a monthly email update to the board offers multiple advantages:

  • Shorter updates: Business professionals’ attention spans are shrinking. Shorter content is easier to digest, and therefore more likely to be read.
  • Timely feedback: A quarter can be a long time, especially for young startups or during challenging times. The monthly format allows the company to receive help or feedback from the board earlier. In business, speed of iteration is key!
  • Keep them posted: Keeping directors up to date will avoid lengthy updates during board meetings, ensuring focus remains on strategic conversations.

Reach out when in need

When meeting online, founders should pause often and regularly ask if there are questions — even if moments of silence feel awkward at times — to give directors a better opportunity to speak up.

Board members can also be solicited on an ad-hoc basis — founders should keep in mind that board members are here to help the company. If you have doubts about a project decision or want a second, informed opinion, reach out to a board member. This is especially true of directors who have expertise on a specific topic. A quick five-minute call can be a game changer.

Being a founder can be a lonely experience because it can be difficult to discuss sensitive matters with the team. Board members should sign nondisclosure agreements, allowing entrepreneurs to share confidential information and get a different perspective on things.

Discuss goals for the next fundraising event

Founders should make sure to regularly discuss business goals to ensure they reach their next round of funding. Because the industry landscape or economy evolved or the competition stepped up, investors may reconsider their expectations to further fund the company.

I have seen situations where founders reached key performance indicators and were surprised to learn that what was agreed with directors no longer applied. That can be a tricky situation considering rounds generally allow companies for two years of runway. Learning about this change too late could mean running out of cash.

Prepare topics to be discussed

Preparing a board meeting deck is time- and energy-consuming, but it forces founders to take a step back and complete a full analysis of the business status. Entrepreneurs tend to have their heads down all the time and might not take the time to look at the big picture.

A deck can structure board meetings by setting an agenda of the points to be discussed. Entrepreneurs should share it with directors at least a few days before the meeting, giving them time to read it and come up with questions or ideas for the meeting.

Preparing two versions of the deck is good practice. The first deck, sent to directors, is meant to be read. It is usually text-heavy and contains all necessary information.

The second deck is a simplified version of the first one, with less text, used as a tool to guide the meeting. This will prevent your directors from instinctively reading the slides during the meeting and getting distracted from what matters the most: what’s being discussed. It is also good practice to write down the allocated time for each conversation to stay on track and avoid running out of time.

A slower pace for online meetings

While remote board meetings have become standard practice since the beginning of 2020, I found them to be less valuable than the in-person format. Conversations are not as engaged and it can be challenging for some to speak up, because of sound issues or introverted personalities.

When meeting online, founders should pause often and regularly ask if there are questions — even if moments of silence feel awkward at times — to give directors a better opportunity to speak up.

Debrief employees

What is discussed and decided at board meetings usually has a strong influence on the company and the rest of the team. A day after the board meeting, organize a companywide meeting, and, using the same deck — without confidential information — founders should debrief employees about the board meeting, what was presented, the board feedback and any action items.

This allows employees to understand where the company stands and how their work fits in. It’s a good time to discuss any concerns, questions and ideas that team members may have. The team will appreciate the transparency and will feel more engaged in their work.