Effective Board Meetings: Best Practices and Innovative Approaches

Everyone has experienced the pain of a poorly executed meeting. It’s frustrating at best and disastrous at worst. Corporate board meetings are no exception.

You can ensure your board of directors holds effective meetings by following best practices of high-performing teams. With a focus on psychological safety, communication, roles, and processes, you can set your board up for effective board meetings—and therefore effective board leadership.

Culture of Psychological Safety

We all know the value of psychological safety on a team. It’s what allows a group to reach its full potential by working together in an atmosphere of trust, respect, and collaboration.

During board meetings, a key component of psychological safety is to designate time when the CEO and other executives and the board chair are in the room—and time when they aren’t in the room. Board members need to be able to have conversations without the CEO or board chair present.

Psychological safety among board members also opens the door for the board to share and benefit from feedback. On a periodic basis, boards should discuss the board chair’s performance without the chair in the room and deliver feedback to the chair. I have been there, and it’s not always fun—but it is productive. Board members can also do this with the CEO or other executives. This process has to follow a specific agenda; it’s not a time to discuss just anything but instead to stick to constructive feedback on the chair or CEO’s performance.

Clear Communication

Clear communication among board members is another key to effective board meetings. That means board members must follow the rules of communication. In addition to engaging in respectful communication, they should pay attention to nonverbals, focus on active listening, craft thoughtful responses, and know when to be brief or even remain silent. When board members are comfortable enough to ask difficult questions and talk through sensitive issues, you’ll get the most out of your board. Effective communication also means each board member contributes, expressing their personal viewpoints and offering their unique expertise.

Clearly Defined Roles

Clearly defined roles are critical to any high-performing team. Each of your board members has to embrace their own role—including the expertise they offer and the ways they can help your company—along with understanding everyone else’s roles. During board meetings, clearly defined roles help everyone meet their responsibilities, whether that’s facilitating the meeting, voting, taking notes, watching the clock, or giving a presentation.

The role of the board chair should not include facilitating board meetings. Make no mistake—effective board meetings require a designated meeting facilitator to own the meeting agenda, keep discussions on track, and monitor the time, but that role should not belong to the board chair. When another board member facilitates the meeting, the chair can give their full attention to the discussion.

Another innovative practice related to roles that you might consider for your board is to recognize when you need to bring in outside roles, resources, or evaluations. Assigning a neutral third party to play devil’s advocate can open up perspectives beyond those of executives and board members. In a lot of ways, that’s part of your board members’ roles, but there are times when a third party can provide even greater insights.

Processes and Procedures

According to research from PwC, executives say their boards of directors are operating at the right level, but only 21 percent of executives think their boards spend enough time fulfilling their responsibilities. Set up more effective board meetings by establishing clear, concrete documents for your board, such as:

  • Calendar: Have a solid annual schedule for your board meetings.
  • Board book: Have a well-designed board book documenting all the information your board needs for effective board meetings.
  • Meeting agendas: Give board members ample time to review agendas and materials before meetings. At least seven to ten days is appropriate.

As the world has gone more electronic, platforms are available to aid in effective document sharing. Implementing these modern processes will help your board conduct more effective meetings.

Best Practices for Your Board

The most effective boards of directors operate as high-performing teams, but they don’t get there on their own. It takes leadership, guidance, and intentionality to help your board reach its full potential.

Questions to Consider

  1. Does your corporate board have a documented process explaining how it conducts meetings, including a timeline to distribute materials?
  2. Do you still have the right mix of people on your board to meet your company’s needs?
  3. How often does your board assess itself?

If you’d like to discuss how to set up your board of directors for success, contact me. I’d love to help you learn more about effective board meeting strategies, high-performing teams, and leadership development.