My earlier blogs on investment committee best practices focused on the fiduciary requirement and membership composition of the committee. Here, I’d like to talk about committee meetings—what makes a good one? We all know what a bad one is like, but what does it take to ensure a productive, well-structured committee meeting? While there are many things to consider, you can gain a lot of ground just by focusing on three important areas:

1 – Preparation. It’s often said that failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Preparing for an effective investment committee meeting comes down to setting clear expectations with a well-planned agenda. Make sure the agenda is carefully prioritized so that the most important items get early attention and it includes only those items that can reasonably be covered in the allotted time.

Next, send the agenda and all pertinent materials to members in advance. Set a clear expectation that they be reviewed ahead of time. This ensures that meeting time can be used for discussion and decision-making. You can enforce this expectation by providing no meeting time for handout review. Unprepared members may be embarrassed, but it will likely happen only once. And this makes it especially important to have a reasonable agenda that leaves time to cover all items.

2 – Time allocation. This is where the committee chair must shine. Even with a well-crafted agenda, it can be a challenge to stay on schedule while still being flexible enough to accommodate fluctuating amounts of discussion and debate. Build the agenda with enough time to discuss each issue thoroughly—considering alternative views and drawing on opinions from all members—and to ultimately drive the issue to a decision, or to next steps if the issue needs further review.

When it comes to decision-making, the chair will commonly take votes by going around the table. However, consider the dynamics of your group. If louder voices tend to overwhelm quieter ones, a blind tabulation of votes or a simultaneous show of hands may more accurately reflect the committee’s views.

3 – Documentation. Closure and documentation, in the form of thorough meeting minutes, is crucial. It satisfies the fiduciary requirement and provides a clear record for others, such as new committee members or CEOs. Minutes should include any exhibits pertinent to decisions made or issues discussed. It’s best to circulate minutes shortly after the meeting. This allows members to review the information while the meeting is still top of mind and gives them the opportunity to suggest adjustments or additions to the minutes at the next meeting. By contrast, minutes not distributed until just before the next meeting will often receive a cursory “salute”  by members who otherwise may have had input that would have made the minutes more accurate.

Of course, a productive committee meeting depends on many more factors, including reviewing the committee’s charter, ongoing education for committee members, and new member orientation. For more detailed information on these and other elements that could help you improve your committee meetings, see Duty, opportunity, mastery: Investment committee best practices.

Notes: All investing is subject to risk, including the possible loss of the money you invest.