Why is the board meeting inefficient and universally despised? Mostly because everyone’s been conducting board meetings the exact same way for way too long. It takes forever for the CEO, COO, CFO and the entire team to create their board materials. The end result is usually not so awesome.
At our first two companies, Moosejaw and CrowdRise, we couldn’t have been worse at building our board decks. It took our team no less than 40 hours a quarter to build a deck that was way too long and mostly awful. Our team hated everything about the board meetings and so did our board. The lunches weren’t even that good.
More recently, my smarter brother and I have sat on the other side of the table—as board members and, more relevantly, as advisors to CEOs and founders. Without exception, every company needed help with their board meeting.
As a result we dug in with each company to improve the entire board process. There were three striking and universal mistakes. Maybe you’re making the same errors. Sorry for being so mean about it all.
1. There Were Way, Way Too Many Infographics.
Everyone building a myriad of infographics had good intentions. Infographics are supposed to let people visualize your data. Sounds exciting. And sure, simple graphics like a revenue growth chart in your Financial Update is great. I’m not talking about those.
I’m talking about the complex infographics that take ages to put together. The crisscrossing lines, the boxes, the small fonts, array of colors, dizzying flows and boring icons. None of it is necessary. It’s time to let go.
CEOs generally say they have no interest in creating infographics, but they feel they have to throw a bunch of ‘em into their board decks. And board members often don’t read infographics at all. They’re too complex. They rarely make sense. And they’re impossible to read on mobile.
Simple is better. Just use bullet points and write your content the same way you’d actually talk about it. Reports along with some key takeaways are great. But, eliminate the archaic, waste-of-time, fancy infographics. No one will miss them.
2. Nobody Was Doing Deep Dives.
Deep Dives are the one or two or three most important strategic discussions you want to have with your board. And, at the risk of saying ‘gotta’…you gotta integrate Deep Dives into your board meeting and prioritize ’em.
Fred Wilson, who we admire more than anyone in the world (aside from Barry Sanders spinning through defenders perhaps), said the following in a blog post:
“Board meetings should be discussions. They should be interactive. They should have some structure. But they should not have too much structure. The purpose of Board meetings are to have these meaty discussions – not to get through the agenda on time.”
Deep Dives are not intended to be a series of reports. This is the time to focus the board discussion around big questions that your board, who will presumably be more experienced than you, can actually drive better decision-making for your business.
Should we expand into Europe? Do you think we should start fundraising for our B round now? Should we acquire our closest competitor?
These are the exact discussions that flip your board meeting from a tedious reporting exercise to the sessions that are absolutely the most valuable to you.
3. The Board Meeting Was Not Being Used to Actually Engage the Board.
What’s the real purpose of your board meeting? Is the idea to solely update your board? Or, is the goal to actually engage and get some potentially really valuable feedback?
Brad Feld is a badass. He’s a philanthropist, author and the founder of Techstars as well Foundry, a VC in Boulder. Brad has written a lot about boards and has said:
“In my world, the day of the “board update” is over. I find no value in sitting in a room for three hours, paging through a PowerPoint deck while people present at me.”
Obviously, we couldn’t agree with Brad more. In the best board meetings, the operators and the board are bantering. They’re engaged.
But, driving engagement doesn’t just happen. You have to build it as a part of your board presentation. Separate your pre-read items from your live meeting agenda. Ask questions of your board at the beginning of each section. Require that your board members add comments prior to the board meeting. And, most importantly, you must serve Dairy Queen Blizzards about 40 minutes into your meeting.