I first heard Stine Mølgaard Sørensen speak at a TechBBQ side event in Copenhagen. As I rushed in, she was being asked: “How do you know when it’s time for a member of your board to leave?”
Her answers had the whole room nodding and taking notes: “Your board needs to be dynamic, not static. Things change quickly in a startup — you could be growing really quickly one minute, in a crisis or pivoting the next. What you needed nine months ago won’t be the same now. Don’t be afraid to ask people to leave and get new people in.”
Stine has founded several tech startups, including healthtech Radiobotics and another tech company that she successfully exited in Silicon Valley. She is now a partner at the Nordic-focused fund Alliance VC and sits on numerous boards — one of which she is currently in the process of resigning from as the team needs new competencies after closing a new funding round.
Here, Stine shares her top practical tips to figure out when a board member’s time is up.
Know your board. Do you know the background of who is on your board and why they deserve to be there? Do you know what skills they bring and where they can be put to use? Do you have a written list you can check when you need specific support? This helps you have an overview of what skills your board comprises and helps you see what’s missing.
Have a post-meeting check-in. After every board meeting, debrief with your senior management. You need to ask, “Do we have what we need with our current board?” If yes, great. If not, what’s not working? What’s missing? Who is holding you back?
Have a competency checklist. To figure out if someone is still a fit for your board, do a competency review: Write what you need a board member to have and rate each requirement as a “must-have” or “nice to have”. Include things like:
- What stage of company-building experience would be helpful, too
Be specific. When talking about industry, for example, you could say healthcare devices instead of just healthtech. Then, get the board member to rate themselves against your requirements — do they match up?
Here’s a template of what this can look like.
Set goals. When someone joins the board, figure out how they can be most helpful and at which point in your company’s journey you think their skills will need replacing — this helps set expectations. When I join a board, for example, I stay until they raise their next round. That’s my sweet spot. Once we get there, we celebrate and I know it’s time for me to step down. That doesn’t mean I’m a bad board member or that I no longer believe in them — I make space for someone with the expertise to take them through to the next stage.
Get board members to review themselves. Board members must be aware of their responsibilities to the company. Suggest that after every board meeting they ask themselves:
- Am I the right person for this job?
- Do I provide the founders with what they need?
Before a meeting, good board members often ask, “What is the most important thing that you need me to do in this session and how can I support you?”
Understand your contractual obligations. Certain investors have the legal right to a board seat but that doesn’t mean they can’t leave the board and be replaced. Investors tend to appoint themselves but they do have the right to appoint someone else to sit on the board on their behalf. If you want to swap the investor out because they no longer match your needs or you need new energy, you can. Have an open conversation with them where you say, “I think it’s time to find another person. Is there anybody in your fund or network that can represent you for the board seat you’re entitled to have?”
On the subject of... boards
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Stop wasting everyone’s time. Board meetings can be valuable if done right.