In this post, Aileron Founder, Clay Mathile, shares what you need to know before your first board meeting.

Involve Your Team

As the CEO/owner of your business, you most likely don’t have the time to plan every detail of every meeting. After you have selected your outside board of directors, rely on your team to schedule, collect data, notify directors,  prepare and distribute minutes, and ensure that the directors arrive on time.

Your Timeline: How to Prepare For Your First Meeting

The support of a trusted team member will be especially crucial during the weeks leading up to your first board meeting. The help of this person will ensure that your directors have all of the information they need in advance of the first meeting.

Here is a sample timeline you can use to help you prepare:

  • Three weeks before meeting: Prepare a plan of action that outlines everything that should be provided to the board.
  • Two weeks before meeting: In addition to the company’s financial snapshot that you have already sent out to directors, assemble biographies of each director, your own vice presidents, and a photograph of each manager. Also include an organizational chart so that directors have no trouble fitting faces to functions.
  • One week before meeting: Once the meeting format has been determined, send your board package to each director with the agenda. You may choose to also send the director’s fee at this time, together with an expense report outlining procedures for travel reimbursements.
  • Day before meeting: To welcome out-of-town directors, leave a welcome letter for each at the hotel reservation clerk. This letter should welcome the director to your city, list the room numbers of all directors, outline the travel itineraries of all directors, and describe any plans for prearranged pickup at hotels, along with any additional information you wish to include.
  • Day of meeting: Ensure the directors are picked up from the hotel or airport so they will arrive as refreshed as possible. Provide coffee or tea and pastries or bagels, if you like, and give the directors time to settle in before the meeting.

Your First Meeting 

Your first meeting will become as memorable to you as the first solo flight is to an aviator. It is very important to get off on the right foot with your new board.

Here are 4 tips to ensure it’s an effective and fruitful meeting for all involved:

  • Allow ample time for introductions. Give managers and directors about five minutes each; if necessary, rehearse these introductions with your managers beforehand.
  • Facilitate as much discussion as possible around key strategic issues. Stating these issues clearly in background materials will ensure that directors will be ready to talk.
  • Remember that directors need a clear overview and strong understanding of your business before they can help you. An informal approach will help create a comfortable atmosphere where you and the directors can speak freely.
  • Don’t be afraid to say, “I need help!” 

Your Follow-Up

Immediately after the meeting, send each director a letter to express your appreciation for his or her participation. Enclose a copy of the minutes and remind the director of the next meeting date.

What’s Next: Looking Ahead

In preparation for subsequent meetings, work together with your team for a smooth planning and organizing process. Ideally you have a person who can prepare the itinerary, make the necessary arrangements for the directors’ attendance, manage correspondence, and coordinate schedule changes when they occur.

To keep the momentum going, here are 4 more considerations:

  • Set a tentative schedule of meetings at least one year in advance—good directors are usually very busy people.
  • If you have four directors and one cannot attend, consider convening anyway and updating the fourth director by phone or video conference. If two of four directors cannot attend, reschedule.
  • Consider using a theme or issue as the main discussion topic for each meeting. These issues are critical strategic points, and concentrating on them can make the best use of your board’s time.
  • Allow functional vice presidents to present their operating plans to the board, particularly when something significant is happening in their departments.

Ultimately, remember to consider your board as a resource to help guide you and provide constructive accountability. Think of them as peers. You must have total trust in them, and you should not be embarrassed if things seem far off course.

Build a High Performing Board

“It takes courage to subject yourself to the review of a capable board, and it will be tough. If you’re mentally exhausted afterward, you know it was a good meeting.” – Clay Mathile

Your board members serve you by providing wisdom and constructive accountability. But what does this look like? How can you spot this in an effective board member? For those looking to learn more about what’s involved in serving on a for-profit advisory board, the Leading a High Performing Board workshop at Aileron was created with you in mind. Come away knowing if you’re ready to serve and how to tell which company is right for you.