Are your board members complaining behind closed doors? Are they frustrated that some board members are not prepared? Do they feel like their input is being overshadowed by a few outspoken members? These are some of the common complaints by board members who feel that board meetings are just a waste of time. Board member dissatisfaction is a huge barrier to the board’s work. How do you turn boring, routine meetings into meetings that are successful and productive? Here are ten tips to help make it happen:
Productive Agenda: Timely and balanced
Use this tip to look beyond the obvious. Copying and pasting an agenda from the prior meeting and making a few additions and deletions is a time-saver, but it’s also one that can carry some risk if you get into the habit of not reviewing the agenda, line by line. The biggest risk in forming a hastily planned agenda is overlooking critical topics.
Balance the agenda by mixing some of the heavier items with lighter topics. If you know that a topic is going to be heavy or laden with controversy, mix it up with some breaks or follow it with something more pleasant. Improve the mood with a short team-building exercise or share some uplifting news.
Consent Agenda: Use it but don’t abuse it
A consent agenda is a useful tool for addressing routine items, but some of them may require vetting and discussion. The board should have the chance to discuss and review every item on the agenda. The secretary and the board chair should review all agenda items to be sure they are current and each is given the priority it requires. Make sure board members get materials for items on the consent agenda ahead of time. Allow members to pull an item out of the consent agenda if they wish to discuss it.
Preparation is Key: All eyes on the chair and secretary
In the eyes of the board members, if the secretary and chair don’t put in the time to adequately prepare for the board meeting by getting materials to them early, it sets the stage for the rest of the board to do just as little. In fact, they may not bother to show up at all. Another misstep is to surprise board members with a lengthy proposal or controversial item that they were not prepared for. Boards do their best work when they’ve had time to mentally and emotionally prepare for whatever the agenda holds.
Executive Committee: In session
The executive committee handles all matters that occur in between board meetings and also acts as a steering committee. During these meetings, the CEO also has the opportunity to have candid discussions with the executive committee about sensitive matters. The popularity of technological tools like email, teleconferencing, and videoconferencing has made these meetings far easier. Technology has also made it easier for to keep executive committee meeting attendance high.
Technology: It’s only good if it works
Technology is a handy communication tool when it works and the facilitator knows how to use it. Here are a few of the things that can go wrong:
- On a webinar, you can hear the host, but can’t see the slides, or vice versa
- On a teleconference you can hear someone’s dog barking or others talking but not the presenter
- A member of a teleconference puts the phone line on hold and the hold music distracts from the presenter
- On a videoconference, you can see the other party, but you can’t hear them
Every meeting should have someone on hand who can solve any technical difficulties. When a member doesn’t get to participate, it’s frustrating for the member and the chair.
At-Large Members: Give them a job
A few board members will join the board with full knowledge of what is expected of them and how they want to contribute to the board. These are the board members who always read the pre-meeting materials. Those aren’t the ones you need to worry about. It’s the ones who don’t speak up at meetings, aren’t active on committees, and don’t participate. The chair should find a job for them or put them on at least one committee. If they are just not good at speaking up, the board chair may speak with the member one on one, and either mentor the member or assign a mentor to that member to incite some motivation. If the member still fails to get involved, it might be appropriate to let the member’s term expire.
Be Forward Thinking: Don’t Look Back
It’s a great morale booster to call the board members’ attention to past successes, but repeating past work won’t necessarily move the organization forward. Get the members thinking outside the box and into the future. Do some brainstorming with the board to try to forecast how today’s decisions will affect tomorrow’s organization.
Make a Connection: It’s personal
The board members are often somewhat removed from how their decisions affect employees, their families, or other people and organizations that are related to the board’s work. Give the board a break from their hard work long enough to see some of their work in action. Show a slide show of how their decisions have helped others or grown the company profitably. Give them a tour of a new facility to show that what they do makes a difference. It could be something as simple as sharing a 10-minute, personal story. Helping board members draw a closer connection to their work just might recharge and motivate the most bored or frustrated board member.
Social Events: One is fun
Most board members know that social events can be a great way to network with others and get to know about other facets of the organization or those they do business with. It’s fairly safe to say that if someone serves on a board, they are busy with other things as well. Busy people can get burned out quickly, so unless there is an express purpose for requiring members to attend an event, it’s best to limit them in number.
Don’t Lose Hope: Just give it scope
A board meeting where there is controversy and disagreement among members isn’t fun for anyone. Try to remember that a diversified board with differing perspectives was planned by design, in order to take advantage of a wide variety of perspectives. The culmination of those perspectives is what drives important work forward. Step back, give it scope. Separate your own perspective (or the perspectives of a minority opinion) by re-framing it against the bigger picture.
A common thread runs through all ten tips—engagement. Engagement can mean to attract someone’s attention or to encourage them to participate. When the board chair or meeting facilitator makes board member engagement a priority, board members become motivated. Motivated members are the nuts and bolts that hold a successful board meeting together and make it strong.