A five-step cure for boredom in the boardroom

If you ‘re the member of a ministry or other nonprofit board, chances are you know the frustration of a poorly run meeting. You’ve yawned through lengthy staff reports, incomprehensible financial updates, and endless rehashes of perennial crisis issues. But because you believe deeply in the mission of the organization you’ve been called to serve, you grit your teeth, hunker down, and ride out the boredom for sake of the greater good.

Well, cheer up, my governance friend. Board meetings need not be (in fact, shouldn’t /must not be) excruciatingly awful experiences. That’s the word from Dan Busby, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA).

While paging through back issues of ECFA’s “Focus on Accountability” newsletters, I came across Dan’s description of an “ideal” board meeting. First published in 2008, his insights remain timely and spot-on.

YOU’VE ACHIEVED AN IDEAL BOARD MEETING WHEN . . .

God is honored. By this Dan has in mind more than a perfunctory opening prayer. As he says, “It is a meeting in which board members sense the moving of the Holy Spirit throughout. Even when debate on issues becomes intense, a deep respect is shown for the opinions and feelings of other meeting participants. The very character of the dialogue is God-honoring.”

The board functions as a group. Dan reminds us that “the biggest challenge for boards is not who is on the board but how the work of the board transpires. Ideal board meetings occur because of . . the positive working relationships among meeting participants.”

The board receives the right information. Dan cautions that “boards that are not properly informed do too little or too much as they compensate for lack of information – either totally deferring to staff or refusing to support strategic proposals. . . Finding the right balance in information architecture requires courage and clarity.”

A good leader/board balance is evident.  As Dan notes, this requires that during meetings, the board is “involved without micro-managing, challenging but also supportive, patient but not complacent.” For the CEO’s part, it means “sharing information without feeling vulnerable, seeking advice without appearing weak, soliciting input without appearing to relinquish control over operational decisions.”

The board provides value-added.  Ideal meetings, in Dan’s view, move the board from mere oversight of managerial work. Board members “contribute to the judgment and wisdom of the CEO, acting as a resource and identifying blind spots of the organizational leaders.” In turn, the CEO recognizes “the board’s input as food for thought and its incisive questions as useful reminders.”

For more on the topic of better board meetings, check out “Seven steps to a well-crafted meeting agenda.”

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