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Better board meetings – board papers

In the third of our series on effective board meetings, we’re looking at board papers. We know that the board pack should be distributed at least a week in advance of the meeting, but what should be in it?

  1. Meeting notice

The meeting notice is the covering letter for the board pack. It should state when and where the meeting will be held, and list the other papers in the pack.

  1. Agenda

The agenda is a key document. It sets out what will be discussed at the meeting, and acts as a roadmap for the Chair to guide the discussion. It is the responsibility of the Chair to set the agendas, usually in partnership with the CEO. The Chair may also wish to ask other board members if they have agenda items which they would like to be included. This goes a long way to preventing ‘any other business’ from being longer than the rest of the meeting!

The Chair and CEO should discuss each agenda item and identify if any other member of staff or outside adviser should be in the room for any particular item. If this is the case, be sure to include who will be attending for each agenda item, as this helps the board know who everyone is in the room, and why they are there.

The Chair should also allocate times against the agenda to ensure more time is spent discussing the most important items. Have an end time and stick to it – it’ll help focus everyone on the task at hand, and will allow participants to plan the rest of their day.

  1. Minutes of the previous meeting

The minutes of the previous meeting should be circulated with the board pack. These should be dated so there is no confusion regarding which meeting they relate to.

  1. Financial information

The board can expect to see an income and expenditure report, balance sheet and cash flow forecast at each meeting. Other financial information may be required depending on the needs of the organisation, and the projects being undertaken at the time of the meeting.

  1. Performance reports

Each meeting should include a high level report on performance against the objectives laid out in the business plan. This may be in the form of a balanced scorecard, or other appropriate performance management tool.

  1. Briefing papers

For agenda items requiring a decision it is advisable for a briefing paper to be included. A good briefing paper will help board members in making their decision by

  • Summarising any previous discussions and decisions on the subject
  • Outlining the options, and the pros and cons of each
  • Itemising the resource implications of each option and related risks
  • Commenting on the long-term effect of each option on the business, its reputation, its key stakeholders (including employees) and any equality issues arising

The paper should also include a clear recommendation from the executive regarding which option is preferred and why.

This can amount to a great deal of paper. Increasingly, boards are moving towards using secure portals for board members to access the papers and avoid the expense and time needed for printing off board packs. Either way, all the items listed above should be included in the board pack, and everything in the pack should be read by meeting participants in advance of the meeting.