Tips, strategies, and things to avoid as you plan your next board meeting

“If it weren’t for the meetings, serving on this board would be a joy. I’m all in on the mission, but one more rambling, mind-numbing agenda and I’m out of here!”

I hear variations on this lament too often from board members bored out of their minds by meetings to nowhere. Perhaps you’ve said as much yourself, which is unfortunate considering that a board is only a board when the members gather in official session.

If board meetings aren’t cutting it, you can bet the board isn’t either.

bored_students_3276Oh sure, individual board members are expected to remain engaged and vigilant between meetings, but the boardroom (plain or fancy) is where the magic happens. Or should.

In response to board meeting angst, I’ve assembled the following tips from governance bloggers and other smart folk for making board meetings better. Included is something for everyone – CEOs, chairs, and rank and file board members – so find yourself in the links and learn.

I READ IT ON THE INTERNET

Thoughtfully Ruthless author Val Wright’s list of 7 critical processes for exemplary boards includes “meaningful meetings. . .  being intentional about how and when the board engages, being clear about what is going on, preventing surprises, instilling meeting discipline, understanding organizational culture and agreement on how people will disagree.” For the other 6 processes, go here.

Along with the good (see above), we can also learn from the bad, as the article “7 Ways to Destroy Board Engagement” suggests. Included in the list are 3 meeting-specific no-nos:

  • Make sure your meetings have few – or no – opportunities for meaningful discussion.
  • Make it clear board members shouldn’t question assumptions; probing questions are unwelcome at meetings.
  • Make sure board members receive materials for board meetings at the last possible minute.

“Making sure you stay away from the seven aforementioned “sins” of board engagement can have an immediate effect,” BoardEffect’s Dottie Schindlinger promises.

Getting the agenda just right is a critical starting point. But without attention to devilish details (AKA logistics), meetings can be a living hell. That’s the word from BoardSource blogger Natalie Hannon. She writes:

Choosing the right date, time, and location is important to ensure sufficient attendance, and paying attention to the smaller details, such as meeting length, the meeting room, and feeding the board, is important to ensure that the materials you have worked so hard on can be received by attentive and engaged board members.

For more on board meeting logistics, go here.

It’s not just meetings that ramble. Board members can (and do) go off the rail as well. So suggests corporate governance guru Andrew Campbell in a Harvard Business Review blog post titled “Running Better Boardroom Discussions.” His three critical take-aways:

Directors need to be much more disciplined in identifying the one or two challenges or comments that they want to make at each board meeting, and more thoughtful about prolonging discussions initiated by other directors.

Board papers should be sent out at least four working days in advance to give directors time to read, digest, and prioritize.

If a director has more than two discussions in mind, the complete list should be submitted to the chair in advance so that they can decide which to address at the meeting and which to address in other ways.

And finally, an instructive word for board chairs and nonprofit CEOs from New York Times columnist David Brooks as you style your relationship with your board. Consider “gracious leadership.”

If you treat the world [or your boardroom] as a friendly and hopeful place, as a web of relationships, you’ll look for the good news in people and not the bad. You’ll be willing to relinquish control, and in surrender you’ll actually gain more strength as people trust in your candor and come alongside. Gracious leaders create a more gracious environment by greeting the world openly and so end up maximizing their influence and effectiveness.

More ideas for board meeting planners:

Join me in stamping out torture by meetings

Seven steps to a well-crafted meeting agenda

Strategies for avoiding meddling by meeting

 

 

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