Tired of ineffective board meetings and directors that show up unprepared? Have you had it with board members that sit around at meetings like so many potted plants? Maybe you have trouble just getting enough directors to show up to have a quorum!
I don’t like wasting time at unproductive meetings and I’m sure you don’t either. And I really have a problem with meetings that have a “feel good” element to them but nothing is ever decided. You know, group hugs all around but no tangible results. You just keep rehashing tough topics over and over again.
Instead, how would you like to tap into your board’s collective expertise more often and derive significantly more value from each director? Well, there is a way. I can just about guarantee you will experience productive meetings by doing a few things before the meeting is called to order.
Here are 7 ways to help make board and committee meetings more productive.
- The executive director and board president/committee chair should discuss and agree on topics to be included on the agenda.
- The executive director or appropriate designee should prepare a complete meeting package for directors attending each board and committee meeting. This package, or pouch as one of my former directors used to call it, should include everything a director will need so he/she can come fully prepared to discuss the business at hand-agenda, committee reports, meeting minutes, background reading materials, special hand outs, etc. This should be sent out no later than one week prior to the meeting.
- I suggest you approach each meeting assuming everyone has read the materials and is fully briefed on the issues. Then, gavel the meeting open and plow ahead. Do not penalize everyone by waiting for a few to read the package while sitting there during the meeting. Do this once or twice and pretty soon everyone will come ready to go. This should end those wasted dead air minutes during meetings while everyone is waiting for 1-2 disrespectful directors to catch up.
- Another idea is to use a Consent Agenda. A lot has been written about this tool. Think of it simply as a bucket you toss all routine items such as meeting minutes, standard contract renewals, routine revisions to policies, minor updates, etc. Then it is voted on in its entirety. The beauty is you and your board get to determine what type of items are acceptable in a consent agenda. And, any controversial items can be pulled out and discussed and voted on separately. This simple tool can save you 10-15 minutes or more by handling routine board actions quickly and saving valuable time for more important agenda items.
- With few exceptions, most heavy lifting should be done in committee…in their own committee meetings. Board meetings are for presentation of issues, discussion of options, and disposition. On occasion, a committee of the whole is necessary and desirable for select topics, but don’t let that happen very often. You will undercut the purpose of committees and you’ll be back to long, boring board meetings again.
- Make sure someone is capturing, in writing, all decisions that are made, including who is doing what by when!
- And, one last thing. Be sure to identify someone who will be responsible to monitor everyone’s progress on each action item.
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Only exception I would take to what otherwise is a good list…if followed….is the guidance around committees. If/when committees so thoroughly digest issues that when they come to the board there’s little left to be done but ‘rubber stamp’ the committee work, then I think that’s another road to boredom. Small groups…whether they’re formal committees, ad hocs, etc. can serve a range of purposes….and the board as a whole (not just the President/Board Chair) must be clear about what purpose for what group. Sometimes there is indeed a more tactical matter that needs to be ‘handled’ by a smaller group–generally the board already understands the parameters of the issue, is in agreement on the outcome and now it just needs to “get done”. Absolutely send this to a committee and have them figure it out. However, other times there are issues that are needing full board consideration….yet the full board isn’t the most efficient body to prepare for those discussions. Here is another role for a “committee”….so long as they are clear their responsibility is to prepare the board for the larger discussion. Here the preference is for a range of options rather than a single recommendation…. A board that is overly dependent on traditional committees to both discuss and decide the issues that properly are the whole board’s to decide….will quickly become a balkanized and bored board.
Thanks for your comments and sharing your concerns Anne. I think you and I are on the same page. The entire board must be engaged in ever important issue and then vote their conscience-no delegating decision-making to a small committee. My point is I believe complicated and important issues can be assigned to a committee to investigate and drill down into the details and prepare a report on its finding for the other directors. Then, when the entire board has the benefit of this in depth pre-work, it should become an agenda item for the entire board to discuss. Thanks for your thoughts…
Yes, indeed, if all the board does is receive and accept committee reports/decisions, it becomes a pretty boring board meeting. Many decisions need more airing and discussion by the full Board before they give approval, and it is generally clear that these are decisions which have broad implications for the (future of) the whole organization. After all it is the board who is ultimately responsible and has fiduciary responsibility for the organization.