Are your Board meetings good, bad...or downright UGLY?

Allan McGregor of The Leadership People calls for an end to boredom in the Boardroom and proposes some simple behavioural changes to ensure that in future all your meetings are productive, effective and edgy.

Successful board meetings

We’ve all endured meetings which are formulaic, dull and quite frankly, a waste of everyone’s time. Unless the Managing Director/CEO is the sort of person who really likes to positively challenge the status quo, their Board meetings are usually predictable, unfulfilling and certainly not worth the attendees’ valuable time.

Whether a Board meeting can be described as good, bad or ugly depends on certain behaviours during the meeting itself, the planning beforehand and the follow-up afterwards.

What makes a Bad Board meeting?

In bad Board meetings you will notice a combination of the following behavioural traits:

  • Slavish adherence to going round the table in a poorly structured fashion, expecting individuals to verbalise events in their own function over the last few weeks
  • Poor time management
  • Agenda items not categorised and with no time-guide on them
  • Statements being made that are not challenged by peers and thus become reality
  • Absence of healthy disagreement between individuals
  • Over-reliance on PowerPoint slides by individuals who haven’t really thought them through or aren’t properly prepared

Signs that your Board meetings are just downright ugly

These are meeting behaviours which should never be tolerated:

  • Impolite listening to each other, evidenced by a great deal of defensive reasoning and post-event rationalisation (very common at senior level)
  • Over-reliance on discussing tactical rather than strategic matters (people staying in their comfort zones)
  • Creative avoidance of articulating and discussing a big taboo, aka ‘the elephant in the room,’ e.g. sales performance, poor quality of product/service, loss of good people from the organisation, lack of NPD (New Product Development).
  • Sycophantic deference to the MD with an unwillingness to push back appropriately against his/her pre-conceived ideas and beliefs
  • Bureaucratic minutes, quite often distributed far too long after the meeting and which serve little or no purpose.

What makes a good Board meeting?

The better and more inspirational Board meetings are planned to be effective, and individuals are encouraged to come prepared, to leave their functional hats (and egos) at the Boardroom door and to engage in dialogue that will really take the organisation forward.

Successful Board meetings share the following characteristics:

  • Each Board member sends out a brief overview of his function’s successes and failures in the last month at least 2 days before the meeting. Honesty is encouraged, for learning purposes
  • The MD establishes a set of ground rules that he/she ensures are kept ‘front-of-mind’ and adhered to during all subsequent meetings. See Allan’s “25 Essential Ground Rules for Effective Meetings”
  • Agendas are distributed (with relevant supporting data) at least 2 days before the meeting and are coded to show the purpose of the particular agenda item and how long it should take
  • Critical areas (the ‘elephants in the room’) are clearly articulated
  • PowerPoint presentations are limited to a maximum of 3 slides
  • Agreed action items (not minutes) are distributed within 3 working hours of the end of the meeting
  • The role of chairperson is rotated regularly
  • Emphasis is placed on looking forward, not backwards and taking decisions that will tangibly drive the organisation forward
  • Constructive disagreement is encouraged as long as it’s done politely and with supporting data i.e. eliminate group think and sycophantic behaviour
  • Individual board members behave (and are encouraged to behave) as such i.e. Directors of the business/organisation and not merely heads of function.

All your Board meetings can be significantly improved in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. It just takes a common desire, the application of proven techniques and a willingness by the MD/CEO to ‘hold people’s feet to the fire’ in a helpful yet determined way.

Get in touch to find out how The Leadership People can help you run effective meetings.