Why 75% of Tech Start-ups Fail (and How To Be The 25%) – Part 4: How to Run a Great Board Meeting

Over the past few articles of this series, we’ve looked at why issues at the board hold back so many start-ups, the necessity of retaining influence on the board, and the types of positions to hire as your start-up grows. Now onto brass tacks – how do you actually run the board?

Ideally, the board won’t meet too frequently – once a month is the highest recommended frequency. The length, focus, and agenda of these meetings is critical too. Here are a few tips to make sure these meetings are effective.

The agenda at the outset of every board meeting needs to be clear. Start with the basics of what a board needs to consider: overall KPIs, market changes since the last meeting, what is the company’s position in the marketplace? If any actionable changes were decided on at the last meeting, have they been made, and if not, why? Remember that your board is not necessarily the target audience of your business either – so their job is not to look at micromanaging decisions about the product you are building, but rather the macro-decisions of the company. Think philosophy, vision, and position – not pedantry, vainness, and passiveness!

Seize back the initiative! Your board needs to work together with you, not against you. The board members will want to feel involved in the company’s success, but you need the meeting to be focused – so look at specific actionable decisions and assignments that the various members can then go away and engage in, without too much back-patting and celebrating over success.

By involving them in certain tasks, their skillset will benefit your start-up, driving growth for everyone involved, without allowing them to become passengers. And to keep them motivated, consider term limits, with regular reviews. This can function as the stick to the carrot – by giving the board members something to lose as well as something to gain.

In maintaining that focus, it helps to meet with the board members separately before meetings – allow them to raise any concerns about the agenda and how they might vote on any key decisions expected to be made that meeting. Further down the ranks, you’ll want to be clear and transparent with your employees about your board meetings – though they may not be physically present, meeting any of their concerns head-on at board meetings is beneficial for everyone. In the long-term it will also aid with employee happiness and retention.

Lastly, add Easter eggs to the pre-meeting pack that you’re circulating. Not literal ones – but little details in the copy of any data or reports you’ll want board members to read beforehand. Put simply, anyone who reads the report will pick up on the Easter eggs. Anyone who doesn’t will therefore be wasting everybody’s time by asking questions whilst they bring themselves up to speed.

Most importantly, you need to chair those meetings hard and efficiently. Two hours max – more than that and attentions will wander and actionable decisions drift into the ether. The board of directors are not an obstacle to your success – but rather a group of people who need to be as focused and accountable as anyone else in order to be successful.