How to Make Your Board Meetings… BETTER.
Sometimes, being a leader feels like you are out in front of a marching band, with everyone smiling and marching closely behind you, in lock step to your tempo. One tight team all in sync. It is a beautiful thing.
But other times, not so much…
Have you ever led a meeting of staff, or board members, and you feel like you’re speaking a foreign language? You bring up a topic and everyone looks at you totally clueless?
You assumed everyone was ready to talk but instead… nothing. They’re unprepared and uncomfortable. They have no idea of the details of the topic and finesse their way through the issue hoping someone else can contribute something meaningful to the discussion.
You sent out the agenda and supporting documents a week in advance. You’ve spoken to directors individually about some of the topics in the past yet, they seem lost and uninformed. You prepared, you thought, you believed… but nonetheless, the board shows up totally unprepared. What went wrong? What is causing this massive disconnect between you as the leader, and your team?
12 Biggest Board Meeting Myths Exposed
1.Directors consistently pay close attention during each discussion on each agenda topic. Unlikely.
2. Attendees have read the agenda and come prepared. Probably NOT.
3. They are deeply familiar and well versed with the biggest issues you face. Nope.
4. This board meeting is as important an event to board members as it is to you. If only.
5. Directors look forward to board and committee meetings. Not a chance.
6. They enjoy being at your meetings. No. They are often tired, hungry and possibly a bit testy after working all day.
7. Attendees will speak freely and openly when asked for their opinion. No way.
8. The newest directors feel as much a part of the organization as the others. Only in your dreams. Even following a good new director Orientation Program, they are likely still feeling disconnected.
9. Board members have a clear understanding of the agency’s mission, vision, and values. They might have… at one time… but there’s a good chance it’s gotten fuzzy over time.
10. They have good recollection and understanding of the agency’s strategic plan. What Strategic Plan?
11. They have a clear grasp of the agency’s programs and how those programs are performing, inline with the mission. Unlikely.
12. Each director has a clear understanding of his/her specific role on the board and what is expected of them in their service. Pipe dream.
If you’re very lucky, only a few of these are currently happening on your board. But there could be others you just haven’t noticed yet. If you’re not super lucky — or you’re like many nonprofits — these challenges may be running rampant, hurting your chances of making a bigger impact with your organization. So what can you do?
8 Ways to Make Your Board Meetings Better
1. Every so often, begin board meeting with a review of the agency’s mission, vision and values. Provide examples of how certain board members are fulfilling the mission, vision and values of the agency. If you’re having a hard time finding good examples, ask your board what it would look like if they were living out the mission, vision and values? If you get blank stares, you may need to paint a picture for them.
2. Along with the board chair, meet with each director individually twice a year. Make this a friendly, but clear review, of his of her service, meeting commitments, and past performance, to ensure they are doing what they were recruited onto the board to do.
3. Meet privately but promptly with directors who consistently are no-shows or come unprepared to discuss the agenda. Don’t let this problem fester. It is not fair to those who find a way to fulfill their duties.
4. Invite your staff and/or leadership team to present updates on programs to the board periodically, so your directors are informed of progress and key developments.
5. If you notice new directors seem overly quiet during board meetings try calling on them and asking for their opinion, to open them up. Be quick to ensure other directors don’t attack or belittle them or their ideas. You could even try putting a few new directors in charge of some special committee, to show your support for their potential.
6. If your board meetings are not lively and engaging, perhaps your agendas need a tune-up. Is it possible you’re boring your board? Are you getting into too much detail in board meetings? Keep in mind, while these details are important to you and your staff — because you live them day in and day out — for board members, it may be too much, since they aren’t involved on a regular basis.
7. It’s a good idea to use written dashboard reports to provide high-level, clear updates on your goals. Do you use them or do you just rely on the typical 20 minute speech that might be less interesting to directors, and hard to follow? Try using a lot more graphs, pictures, and charts. Present the information, but then let them do the talking.
8. At the start of your next board meeting, try “tossing the room”. Make everyone get up, move out of their comfortable, familiar spot and sit elsewhere, next to someone new.
These eight suggestions should help eliminate some of the most critical issues your board is having. Give them a try and let me know how they work.
If you were to ask your board — and get honest answers — you would probably be surprised to learn that your directors aren’t getting nearly as much from your board meetings as you’d like. Too often they might show up, scribble a few notes, ask a question or two, and believe their work is done until the next board meeting.
One of the best ways to get your board meetings back on track, is to revisit your Board Orientation Program and Strategic Plan. Even if your current board has been with you for awhile, it’s likely they have forgotten key elements — like their roles, responsibilities, and your mission. A refresher can go a long way towards re-energizing your board and getting the results you need.