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Posted: November 07, 2011

How to have a great board meeting

First of all, dump the powerpoint

Brad Feld

I've had a string of great board meetings lately. They all had several similar attributes.

There were no powerpoint slides: While each company has a substantive monthly reporting package, this was decoupled from the board meeting. I got my taste of financials, metrics, qualitative stuff, and whatever else the CEO wanted me to see on a monthly basis. But I read this independent of the board meeting (which wasn't on a monthly cadence) and asked questions in reaction to getting the monthly reporting package rather than taking up air time in a board meeting.

The agenda was a simple set of bullet points: In several of these meetings it was written on the whiteboard at the beginning of the meeting. The topics covered were substantive but focused and were "in the moment" of importance, rather than some regurgitated monthly agenda that someone mindlessly edited from the previous meeting and then printed out.

Everyone involved was fully engaged: In several cases there were people on the phone or on videoconference, but they paid attention. And when they didn't, we didn't pay any attention to them.

Each topic was a discussion: There was no "reporting out". The issue was framed by whomever started the discussion and then we went after it. There was no time limit. When people drifted off course (including me), someone (not always the same person) interrupted and pulled us back on course. We drove to answers, and - when we didn't have consensus, ended up with a range out answers for the CEO to choose from (where we'd support whatever he chose.)

We got closure on each topic: There was no ambiguity. Even when we didn't end up at a single answer, it was clear who (usually the CEO) owned the decision with an expectation that he would make it.

There was no bull: I don't recall much "noise" - the "signal" in all of these meetings was very high.

The meetings didn't expand to fill available time: The length ranged from 30 minutes to about four hours. But when we were done, we were done.
Everyone had a positive / constructive attitude, even when dealing with difficult issues: These were not happy, fluffy, mellow, no-conflict meetings. There was plenty of disagreement. There were arguments. But everyone approached them from perspective of solving a problem and getting to an answer.

We had a fun dinner either the night before the meeting or the evening after the meeting: Bottom line - we like hanging out with each other.
I've got another board dinner / meeting combo with a CEO who runs great board meetings (and - not surprisingly - a great business).

While I'm sure I'll figure out how to subject myself to more mind-numbing meetings that I don't want to participate in, I feel like I'm turning a corner and have some impact on changing the board meetings I'm involved in for the better.
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Brad has been an early stage investor and entrepreneur for more than 20 years. Prior to co-founding the Boulder-based Foundry Group, he co-founded Mobius Venture Capital and Intensity Ventures, a company that helped launch and operate software companies. Brad is a nationally recognized speaker on the topics of venture capital investing and entrepreneurship and writes widely read and well respected blogs at www.feld.com and www.askthevc.com. He holds bachelor's and master's of science degrees from from MIT. Contact him at brad@feld.com

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