How to make the most out of your board level management meetings
The poll also found 65% said board meetings kept them from completing their own work, 64% said they came at the expense of “deep thinking”, and 62% said chances to bring a team closer together were lost because of them.
Possibly most damning of all, 54% said board meetings were “too frequent, poorly timed and badly run”. It begs the question: why do companies continue to hold board-style meetings?
The answer is, despite those less-than-glowing numbers, they are incredibly useful for your agency, especially if you use our services to support your board-level management meetings.
Agencies working with us can use their board-level management meetings to check their performance, provide a forum for discussion, establish whether goals and targets have or will be met, and set out plans for future growth.
Taking a holistic approach; carefully planned, well-run board-level meetings should be used to create, monitor and assess agency strategies across every company department, from HR, finance and operations, to sales and marketing.
Common mistakes when conducting board-level management meetings
Senior executives know that time is their most precious commodity and, as the figures have shown, many regard board-level meetings as poor use of both individual and company time.
Despite there being a wealth of advantages to be gained from successful, well-run board meetings, lots of organisations fall into the many traps associated with them.
There are many reasons for this. Let’s take a closer look at the main culprits.
Arguably the biggest gripe is board meetings that overrun. No matter how rigorous the planning or the inflexibility of the attendees’ diaries, they almost always exceed any pre-set time limit.
The knock-on effect is rarely positive: directors emerge from board meetings feeling harassed and under pressure after losing an hour or more of their day.
That sentiment can trickle down to their team and before long, the entire company’s being negatively affected, which isn’t great for productivity or morale.
So what can cause a board meeting to overrun, and is it avoidable? To answer the second question, the answer is a definite “yes”, while the first is usually due to one or more of the following factors:
An unfocused agenda
Any board meeting that begins without a clear agenda is going to lose focus probably before you’ve finished discussing the first item.
It can easily lead to trivial issues dominating the schedule, pushing more important or pressing issues to the sidelines.
It could also see one person or department being given more of a platform than another, preventing crucial agency insights or new ideas from being raised or discussed.
All of this could result in rushed, snap decisions about an agency’s strategies or important items being delayed and pushed back to the next meeting.
Not adhering to the agenda
Board meetings can quickly be derailed by an irrelevant subject or a board member raising an issue that wasn’t even on the agenda in the first place.
Again, this can result in the time to discuss the actual agenda being squeezed, or prompt another meeting to be scheduled.
When directors are already concerned about the time taken for the original board meeting, subsequent gatherings will only compound the problem.
Lack of preparation
Board-level meetings are usually scheduled well in advance but there can be a surprising amount of senior management team members who don’t do their homework beforehand, albeit for sometimes unavoidable reasons.
A lack of preparation will, at best, slow things down and result in an unproductive or bad meeting. At worst it can delay important decisions about strategic issues that could be key to an agency’s growth.
What are the most important components for a successful board meeting?
After examining the issues of unproductive meetings between management teams, now it’s time to take a look at the good points.
There are lots of structural ways to help business owners organise an effective agency board meeting. Here are our most important components:
Clearly define the meeting’s purpose
Set out, right from the start, what the board meeting is going to be about. That way it can’t be hijacked or derailed by conversations about separate or irrelevant matters.
Craft the agenda
After identifying the subject of the board meeting, make sure the agenda items reflect that.
List each item clearly and ensure all attendees, including any guest speakers, are relevant to what’s on the agenda.
The more detail you can include about what will happen during the meeting the better everyone can prepare. We’ll go into more detail about that later.
Set time limits
Arguably the most crucial part of any board meeting and potentially the most difficult: set a time limit for the gathering and stick to it.
Be realistic about the amount of time needed for the meeting: the nature of the discussion will determine its duration. You may have to set aside a full day for a strategy meeting, for example.
Board members raising points for discussion will know how much time has been set aside for each one thanks to the clarity of the agenda. If they’ve done their preparation, overrunning should be minimal.
Use the right technology
Not every board meeting can be held in person. Many agencies have offices or members of their executive team operating in different time zones and so rely on virtual meetings.
The pandemic forced tech firms to radically up their video conferencing software game, and businesses have continued to benefit from these virtual meeting tools.
However, it’s important to ensure all board members and guests have access to the tech and know how to use it effectively. Spending an entire business meeting on mute isn’t helpful if you have a key agenda issue to discuss.
Use an experienced minute-taker
Recording your agency’s board meetings is as important as holding them in the first place, and can be a crucial part of any follow-up actions.
Not choosing the right person from your leadership team to take the minutes could result in key comments about decision making being missed, or the nuance of a complex strategic issue that was discussed getting lost.
Having an experienced minute taker attending means everyone will understand exactly what was said and by whom, keeping them all on the same page.
Well-taken minutes can also inform any follow up measures as well as the next meeting, ensuring directors don’t discuss the same subject again, helping to preserve everyone’s valuable time.
Seven tips to maximise your board-level meetings
Let’s drill down a bit further into what you can do to maximise gatherings for your executive team. Here are our seven tried-and-tested tips on how to hold the most effective board meetings.
1) Make your meeting agenda laser-focused
‘Meeting Professionals International’ claim that a focused agenda cuts company meeting times by up to 80%, a huge figure by anyone’s standards.
So an interesting question is: who sets the agenda for the meeting in the first place?
In most firms it’s usually compiled by a senior company secretary, who adds issues from the executive team to the meeting list as and when they come in.
With no clear sense of priority, no matter how important the issues on the list, the agenda and meeting quickly becomes bloated.
Before you know it, important decisions are either delayed or passed down the management food chain.
A seismic company change
We recommend taking a leaf out of Rijkman Groenink’s book, ex Chair of the board of ABN AMRO, who introduced a seismic change: separating meetings for operations and strategy.
He cut six hours of weekly operations meetings down to a single gathering, and introduced a full-day, monthly meeting for the board to discuss strategy and make resource allocation decisions.
Although Groenik’s change cut just two hours from the time the board spent together, it shifted a considerable percentage of it to strategic decisions. It boosted the efficiency of the bank’s board meetings and helped it compete with rivals, because more time was dedicated to resource allocation.
2) Use board meetings for company decisions, not discussions
We’ve already touched on the need for having a clear agenda and preparing for executive team meetings. Now we’re going to explain why both are so important, beyond merely time-saving.
Many companies, when putting together the agenda for a meeting of their management team, do two things:
First, they ensure all documentation relevant to the agenda is issued to all company board members several days in advance, giving them enough time to digest the information before the meeting.
Second, they include a meeting cover sheet, listing precisely what agenda item each document relates to, and why board members are being asked to read it ahead of the company meeting.
A successful meeting has a sharper focus
This method means board members are up to speed on particular issues before the meeting takes place, and they know which items on the agenda are going to require action.
No more time-consuming presentations. Instead, board meetings have a sharper focus on informed decision-making at the most senior level. Action is taken.
3) Give your meeting agenda items value…
On any given day, there could be 15 issues affecting your agency but probably only three need addressing at a board level meeting.
Identifying and understanding which are the highest-value items on your agenda is crucial to ensuring your board meetings are both targeted and effective.
Franz Humer, CEO of Swiss pharma company Roche, developed a ‘decision agenda’ which lists the firm’s 10 biggest opportunities and problems to be discussed at a meeting, based on the value at stake.
Smaller agencies can adopt a similar tactic, ensuring their leadership team is working to solve the highest-value issues at a strategic meeting level, and enhance overall company performance.
4) …then get them off the list fast
Building a list of 10 high-value issues for a meeting is one thing. Once compiled, the directors then have to find a way to solve them.
Board meetings are an effective way to set out a timetable, so there’s a clear understanding among all members about which solutions will be decided upon, when they will be implemented and by whom.
The ability to make informed decisions and swiftly move issues off the agenda will keep an agency moving forward and prevent leadership team meetings from drowning in detail.
5) Use common language and standards
Every business is different, but there are ways to accelerate the decision-making process during board meetings without leaving some members feeling as though corners have been cut.
Devising and implementing a common language, set of standards and methodology can help members address and solve several issues during the same meeting.
It could also increase the number of annual decisions they make without compromising quality, and that can help drive agency growth.
A simple framework
A good example are the three tests Barclays uses for its strategic decisions, which must all be fact based, alternatives-driven and consequential.
Using this framework, the bank’s board knows whether one of its businesses will create shareholder value, that the decision reached was the best of several options and, the company’s performance can be monitored after the decision was made.
6) Listen to board members during a meeting
Let’s be honest, most board meetings can be long and complex, with lots of information, ideas and opinions swirling around for hours.
No matter how long they last, it’s crucial that each member of the leadership team pays attention to everything that’s said at a board meeting.
Engaging in active listening and maintaining eye contact in a meeting ensures both verbal and non-verbal cues are picked up by and from other members.
Being aware of these nuances during a lively group discussion could be vital when making critical decisions.
7) Offer some final thoughts
A great way to round off a successful board meeting is by serving up a few final words in a brief summary.
You can do this either by reiterating points or comments made during the meeting, or by offering a personal insight to conclude the discussion.
The aim is to inspire your management teams to leave the room intent on keeping the agency moving in the right direction, based on the strategic business decisions made during the board meeting.
A word on board meeting moderators
Not every meeting of the board of directors has to be chaired by the agency’s CEO. Some organisations and companies bring in external moderators, particularly for virtual gatherings.
It’s a method that has several advantages, not least when it comes to time management. A meeting moderator can:
- ensure the discussions stay on topic
- identify and address groupthink or business bias
- ensure everyone in the group is able to contribute
- prompt decision making and prioritise issues
- prevent ‘analysis paralysis’ by defining clear action items
- ensure all information receives fair consideration by board members
What was agreed in the meeting?
One of the most common problems that emerges after board meetings is not everyone is completely sure about – or happy with – the decisions that were made.
Members can sometimes have very different interpretations of what business strategy was discussed and agreed, which can make turning them into actions easier said than done.
That can be bad news for an agency looking to act swiftly.
There are ways to combat this and prevent leadership team members from muddying the waters after final decisions have been made in a meeting.
After the meeting: follow-ups and feedback
One method is to follow up a company board meeting with formal documentation linked to the business decisions made in the meeting.
Some organisations use them to clarify which business resources will be used to execute the strategy agreed in the board meeting, as well as the expected financial results from the plan.
A decision that has been agreed to, following a constructive debate in a board meeting, will only stick if every person connected to it is on the same page: no whispered discussion in corridors can be allowed to undermine it.
Enhanced relationships and operations
Another way to make sure all directors are completely clear about what happened in board meetings is to ask for feedback.
Gillette’s preferred method is to ask board members to rate the quality of each others’ annual decision making.
Whether you choose to follow that company’s example or send out an anonymous questionnaire, this information can have a significant impact on your group operations.
Feedback can help build relationships among staff, enhancing your company’s performance. It could even lead to a better strategy for your agency.
It’s worth setting aside valuable time to gather this data after a meeting and make sure your agency is always heading in the right direction.
The importance of mixing up a meeting
Board meetings may sometimes last hours but they certainly don’t have to be dull. There’s a lot to be gained by introducing guest speakers who have relevant input to your agency or business.
Don’t hold each meeting in the same place – mix up the locations or group setting, either with meetings held standing up or in breakout spaces, just like for regular staff meetings.
These alternative methods of holding board meetings not only prevent boredom, they can also help with time management and promote active listening among the board of directors.
How we use board meetings
At de Jong Phillips, we understand you want to build an agency that is financially strong and operationally well-run, so you can follow up and take it to the next level.
We work closely with our clients to ensure the right systems, processes and people are in place so they can scale and grow sustainably.
That includes using tech-based solutions such as Xero, as well as offering sound accounting advice and support when it comes to understanding the financial information behind your numbers, and how it can impact your decision making.
Adding value at every stage
Our experts will not only help implement software and strategies to scale your agency, they will also hold a board-style meeting to discuss your company’s performance reports.
We will help you achieve all your strategic level goals using the model created by author Gino Wickman in the book Traction. Gino says: “When everyone follows their process, it’s much easier for managers to manage, troubleshoot, identify and solve issues, and therefore grow the business.”
Our support includes a regular, quarterly meeting to establish your agency’s priorities for the upcoming three months – known as Rocks. Together, we will lay out who will be responsible for carrying them out and agree on a timeline.
We’ll also hold you to account and ensure you’re moving forward. Then our team will roll up their sleeves and help you set new, more ambitious business targets.
Enhancing your agency’s work culture
There is so much to be gained from holding regular, successful board meetings – more time, a clear strategy and enhanced communication. It’s all good.
As well as ensuring each person in the leadership team is 100% behind the vision for your agency, the benefits also extend far beyond the company Directors.
Focused decision making will give an agency a clear direction, while board members who follow up before the next meeting demonstrate their leadership to every team in the company.
Their actions could even inspire other colleagues to discuss ideas with their company directors that they’ve been sitting on for far too long.
Couple that with our financial expertise, and your agency’s growth will boost the confidence and loyalty of every person who is an integral part of your successful team.
Let’s have a meeting and get started
Whether you’re looking to scale your start-up company or make your established agency more profitable, our tech-savvy, expert team of chartered accountants will get you moving in the right direction and keep you on track.