Seven steps to a well-crafted meeting agenda

To most board members, agenda building is about as exciting as watching paint dry. Until they sit through a poorly run board meeting or two, that is. Nothing brings out appreciation of a thoughtfully prepared agenda like bad experiences in the boardroom.

In my work with boards of faith-based nonprofits, I describe great meetings — those that educate, encourage, and empower board members — as foundational to good governance. And I remind CEOs and board chairs that agenda planning is one of their most important shared responsibilities.

Now as a board chair myself, I’m challenged to practice what I teach.

THE METHOD IN MY MEETING PLANNING MADNESS

I’ve developed the following seven-step agenda building process. The list is a work in progress, revised per board members’ evaluative comments following each of our three meetings a year.

Step 1. To get the ball rolling, the CEO and I each list topics we’d like to see on the agenda. Negotiation ensues.

Step 2. Once the CEO and I agree about what to include, I work at ordering the agenda items, starting with those of greatest importance from the board’s perspective.

Step 3. I estimate the amount of time we’ll need for each item. I consider how information will be presented, the amount of discussion the item will generate, and whether a vote is required.

Step 4. I include time for breaks, meals, and board/staff interaction.

Step 5. With the pieces in place, I test the agenda with the other members of the executive committee and committee chairs, making further adjustments per their suggestions.

Step 6. After everyone has had a say, I test the agenda against the following questions:

  • Are connections between this meeting and our last time together easily discernible?
  • Are worship and prayer prominent in the agenda or do they look like an add-on?
  • Do more than half of agenda topics have a future orientation?
  • Will the flow of the meeting encourage as much interaction among board members as between the board and CEO?
  • Do several board and staff members have “speaking parts” or will one or two voices dominate?
  • Do committee agendas complement and/or build on the full board discussions?
  • Is the time allotted for board-only work, including an executive session, sufficient for the issues needing to be addressed?
  • Will board members go home knowing more about the ministry and its programs than when they arrived?

Step 7. When the tweaking is complete, I hand the agenda over to the CEO who, in turn, directs staff in gathering background materials and assembling the board books.

IS THE PAINT DRY YET?

At the end of the day, it doesn’t much matter if every member of the board understands or appreciates the intricacies of agenda building. The proof is in the meeting. Good organizations have good meetings, and good meetings support good governance.

That’s why careful agenda building matters — seven steps or otherwise.

Comments

  1. johnwpearson says:

    I love this point: “Are connections between this meeting and our last time together easily discernible?” That doesn’t happen by accident. Terrific list!

    • From having had the opportunity to work with you, I’m not surprised you picked out this point, John. We share a frustration with the episodic nature of many board meetings. Making connections from one meeting to the next is critical to keeping the board moving in a positive, helpful direction.

  2. Tommy W Thomas says:

    I like the intentionality of your piece. Good meetings don’t “just happen”

  3. Peter Durksen, Breslau, On says:

    Lots of helful points including: do several board members and staff have speaking parts, and, are at least half the topics future orientated.
    One concept, from Canadian Council of Christian Charities , that I have found very helpful, is that of an annual agenda, ie topics that must be addressed every year, eg budget approval, evaluation of the strategic plan.

    • I, too, like the idea of an annual agenda for the board. It’s great way to be certain nothing important drops through the cracks. Thanks for adding this good piece of advice, Peter.

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