Board directors commonly report that their board packs are not succinct and focused.
In fact, two studies from 2019 confirmed that board packs in the UK and Australia have “increased in length dramatically in recent years” and become “unwieldy and overwhelming”. And though for now there are no statistics from other countries, it’s reasonable to assume that ineffective board packs are a global problem.
In this article, you will find tips for building effective board packs along with documents to include, ideal format to follow, and common traps to avoid.
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What is a board pack?
A board pack — also called a board package, board briefing or board paper — is a collection of documents presented to board members ahead of their next meeting. Its immediate purpose is to support effective board meetings, by keeping the board up to speed on the matters that they will discuss during the board meeting.
A board pack features mainly reports and technical papers, but it can include several other kinds of documents. These all contain information about the company finances and the progress of plans and projects since the last meeting, and help directors learn about achievements, present and future risks, problems and opportunities.
The ultimate purpose of a board pack is to help directors focus on what is important, and thus increase the board’s ability to make informed decisions.
What you should include in a board pack
There is no hard and fast rule about what to include in a board pack. But in general, a good board pack will include at least the following board of directors documents:
|Meeting agenda||Informs the members of what subjects will be discussed, in which order, and for how long.|
|Minutes of the previous meeting||Lets members check if all is correct with the minutes and gives them the opportunity to ask for corrections.|
|Department updates||Keeps members in the loop about important corporate developments.|
|Project reports||Updates members on the progress of specific projects since the previous meeting.|
|Financial report||Shows members the state of the company’s finances.|
|Board committee reports||Informs board members about technical topics researched by committees.|
What is the ideal format for a board pack?
There are three ways to put together and deliver a board pack:
- On paper
- As one or multiple files sent by email
- Through board portals, which are specialized software to prepare board packs
A physical pack has the advantage of being easier to handle, and more comfortable to read. However, it has disadvantages:
- Costly to print and mail
- Requires the extra work of printing and mailing
- Does not protect confidential information
- Cannot be easily updated
A board pack sent by email shares the last two problems. It can also create duplicates, or missing files.
Board portal software is not exempt from problems. However, of all three options, digital board packs are usually the most convenient way for a company secretary to compile and distribute board papers to members ahead of their next meeting.
A board portal is also the best way to conduct a paperless board meeting when you can’t get all members together in the same place.
Mistakes to avoid in board packages
As we saw above, board packs for board meetings are becoming larger and more difficult to read. If you are a company secretary and want to improve your pack preparation, here’s what you should avoid:
- Including unnecessary material — such as unfiltered information, duplicated reports, and papers meant for specific committees but not for the whole board. Instead of making board packs comprehensive and detailed, try to make them essential, leaving in only what is necessary for the board members to know.
- Adding things to the board briefing at the last minute, which doesn’t leave the board members enough time to read it thoroughly. Instead, have a deadline and respect it.
- Using language that lacks precision and can mislead decision-makers. Alert the managers who write papers for the board pack that they must pay attention to use precise language.
- Including overly technical material and jargon in the pack. Instead, have the technicians make a digest of their material, in a language accessible to lay people.
Tips for creating board packs for your board members
While creating effective board packs requires certain dedication, the process becomes more convenient if the leadership team has a ready-made plan to follow:
Choose a template that makes sense for your company and stick to it. This will ensure your information is organized, and that you know what you need to include.
Get the right managers and technicians to write the material you need. Remind everyone on the board admin team that you need precise language, short sentences, and filtered data.
Remember, a board pack is supposed to be a summary of key data that keeps every board member up to date. It’s not supposed to be a corporate encyclopedia. It’s not always easy to know what is essential and what is not, but try to filter the data and board documents you receive, so as to avoid unnecessary documents, duplicates and irrelevant data.
Have the board pack ready with enough advance so that the board members have time to go through its entirety. Avoid the temptation of adding things last-minute, unless it’s a crucial piece of information that you couldn’t get hold of before.
Access and handling
Preferably, make your board packs digital and share them through board portal software. This will save you, board administrators, and board members a lot of time, while also keeping confidential information secure.
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In the meeting agenda, ask board members to give feedback on the board pack, so you can know what is working and what is not.
Board pack templates and how to use them
Using a board pack template will help you organize the information you have, decide what can be left out of the board pack and what is essential to it, and how you will present it to the board members.
- Tip: By consistently using the same template, you will make board members get used to the way your board packs are organized. This will help them move through and digest the content.
If you are using board pack software, it will probably offer you different options of board pack templates to choose from.
Is there an ideal board package template?
As with board pack contents, there is no one-size-fits all template. The ideal board package template is the one that helps you get your documents sorted and presented in an organized way before the upcoming board meeting.
Still, the template based on the Kaplan & Norton Balanced Scorecard is one that most board secretaries can probably use — or at least get inspiration from. This template presents a view of the company from four different perspectives:
- Finance — how does the company look to shareholders?
- Customer — how does the company look to clients and stakeholders?
- Operations — what must the company excel at?
- Growth — how can the company improve?
By using this template (or your adaptation of it) you will more easily understand what documents and data are relevant for the board and what should be left out of the pack.
Characteristics of an effective board pack
An effective board pack is one that:
- Follows a logical structure
- Contains only relevant information
- Is easy to read
- Gets delivered in time
- Can be easily accessed by all board members
It’s of course possible to create such a board pack on paper and distribute it by mail. However, board portals make compiling a board pack a much easier and more secure process — not to mention that you can also conduct a virtual board meeting on the platform.
As this page on the World Economic Forum website puts it, “a range of new digital tools for board governance has been brought to the market in recent years, and businesses should experiment with these to find out what helps them work more effectively.“
If you aim at optimizing the process of compiling and distributing board briefings ahead of your board meetings, we suggest you try the iDeals board portal — it’s the top choice of countless seasoned professionals.
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Why do board meetings require a board pack?
Board members need board packs in order to have key information about what has been going on in the company since the last board meeting.
How often should boards review the packs they receive?
Members should read the pack only once in order to be ready for the board meeting.
How long does it take to complete a board package?
This depends on how quickly company managers and experts will deliver the material you need. We suggest you allow for a few days’ delay when you calculate the time you need, since key material can be delivered later than you expect.