How to Run Great Board Meetings (Part 1 of 3)

At the beginning of the JuntoApprenticeship every company is assigned five Mentors that serve on their Mentor Team. This group acts as a de facto advisory board during the nine-month program and meets with the company’s leadership team every month for two hours.

Reflecting back on our three Chicago cohorts, our team has helped prepare, run and follow-up on 109 total Mentor Team meetings. In the beginning, we had a lot to learn. Now, at the end of Junto III, it’s useful to look back at what we’ve actually learned that has led to the process we use today.

These lessons can be applied to any important meetings companies have that need structure and formality, whether with investors, advisors, or a board of directors. For us, every single step exists to so the Apprentices can remain engaged, focused and present and so that the meeting is productive for everyone in attendance.

As you’ll see, this is an intensive process that involves many small steps and requires attention to detail. As a result, this blog post will consist of three parts.

Today, we’re covering what we do in advance of the meeting. Next week, Part Two will cover the steps involved on the day of the meeting. In Part Three, we’ll address the steps we take after the meeting has been held.

Each of the three posts will be organized in the following way:

  1. the list of tasks we complete

  2. a description of each task

  3. the main lesson we’ve learned related to that task


1. Schedule prep call with the company leaders

About a week before the meeting, we email the leadership team and find a time for a 30-minute agenda prep call. We send a calendar invite with a conference call line included so everyone can easily join in. After three years of running this program, we know very well that it's important we take responsibility for sending any calendar invites and call/meeting details. Entrepreneurs are swamped with so many things and the easier we can make their lives the better. 

Our lesson learned: To get busy entrepreneurs to prepare adequately, we need to get on their calendar. 

2. Hold prep call

During the call, we ask questions about their proposed topics and business challenges to help the team find the right balance between being strategic and tactical. Oftentimes, company leaders begin sharing their issues from a more tactical lens. The prep call helps them zoom out to discuss the root strategic challenges behind the tactical ones. We do this because our Mentors are best leveraged when helping the leadership team address the strategic challenges behind managing and operating their business, rather than getting lost in the weeds.

Our lesson learned: Startup founders and leaders benefit from having an outsider ask them questions about their challenges. It enables them to "see the forest for the trees."

3. Send meeting agenda to team

We believe in using questions, not topics or statements, for meeting agendas. Questions instigate more reflection, ideas and memories of past experiences than statements do.

How we word those questions is also important. We ask our Mentors to avoid giving advice and instead share their experiences during the meetings. The way we word questions helps Mentors reflect on how they handled the specific challenges within their own companies, rather than respond to the questions with a list of "shoulds" for the leadership team.

Our lesson learned: The language in an agenda affects the nature and quality of the meeting discussion.

4. Address logistical matters 

This is our newest step in the process. Most of the Mentor Meetings are held at the company’s office, and in these cases they're familiar with their own technology and logistics. In the case a meeting is held in a new location, it's important that we inquire with the host on the security check-in process, wi-fi code, audio/video capabilities, etc. Like most people in business, we’ve learned the hard way that technical issues arise and often get in the way of starting on time and holding a productive meeting.

Our lesson learned: Assume nothing and be extra thorough in confirming logistics.

5. Send agenda, dashboard & reminder to Mentor Team 

After the company leaders have approved the agenda questions and have updated their company dashboard (a document JuntoApprentices use to track their performance during the program), we send a reminder email to the Mentor Team. It confirms the date, time and location of the meeting and includes the agenda and company dashboard for Mentors to review in advance.

Our lesson learned: The more reminders, the better. And send documents ahead of time so Mentors come to the meeting ready and up-to-date.

6. Bring hard copies

Although everything has been emailed to the company and the Mentors, we print out the meeting documents, ensuring all details are correct (ex: the date) and enough copies are made. In addition to the agenda and company dashboard, we bring copies of our evaluation forms. At the end of the Mentor Meeting we ask everyone to provide their anonymous comments on how the meeting went, the company’s progress since the last meeting, and how effective the Mentor Team was during the meeting.

Our lesson learned: People still like hard copies. They take notes and refer to specific words, phrases, and numbers.

 Click here for part two of this blog on "Day of the Meeting."

Click here for part three of this blog on "Day After the Meeting."