Board (or Bored) Meetings

“Hedley Lamarr: ‘Meeting adjourned. Oh, I am sorry, sir, I didn’t mean to overstep my bounds. You say that.’
Governor Lepetomane: ‘What?’
Hedley Lamarr: ‘Meeting is adjourned.’
Governor Lepetomane: ‘It is?’
Hedley Lamarr: ‘No, you say that, Governor.’
Governor Lepetomane: ‘What?’
Hedley Lamarr: ‘Meeting is adjourned.’
Governor Lepetomane: ‘It is?’”
Dialogue from Blazing Saddles by Mel Brooks

You would laugh if I told you how many board meetings I have attended where the disorganization and lack of discipline reminded me of this scene from one of my favorite movies. I am amazed when entrepreneurs really go out of their way to recruit qualified people to join their board (regular or advisory) only to subject them to a dysfunctional meeting which in essence, negates the benefit these valuable resources can bring to the table. I cringe when I see them roll their eyes.

But all is not lost. There are three things I would suggest you focus on to convert these wasted opportunities into meaningful events.

First, bifurcate the formal “approval” portion of the meeting. Instead of interspersing required approvals with topics which might result in robust exchanges, have all the standard approval agenda items covered in a succinct manner. Now I do not mean to imply that you should give short shrift to key items that require discussion, but those that have been fully discussed and vetted should be the subject of brief motions and approvals so proper time can be spent on more significant issues.

Second, distribute information on key topics in advance. I once watched a pretty successful owner get dressed down by a Board for distributing a 20-page budget at a meeting and asking for immediate approval. The more he tried to limit discussion, the worse it became. A simple rule of thumb; if it is more than 2 pages, send it in advance.

Finally, don’t forget to discuss “future state.” So many of the meetings seem to spend a disproportionate amount of time discussing current state that there is either no time (or participants are too exhausted) to cover developments like pending paradigm shifts. This usually happens with financial statements which though distributed in advance, seem to be destined to be discussed on a line-by-line basis. If you find this happening to you, take notes at two meetings noting common questions (and they will be apparent) and then use that information to prepare a summary that will accompany the financials distributed in advance. Surprising how that may help.

One side note. Good entrepreneurs are in contact with their board members in between meetings to get their temperature on various hot issues. It is always worthwhile knowing what the “judges” will find important before presenting a case.

So the simple advice is to spend a little time managing your board in this manner and you will turn those “bored” meetings into memorable gatherings of these valued advisors.

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