Why Is It Essential to Have an Agenda Before a Board Meeting?

Attempting to have a board meeting without an agenda is a lot like taking a cross-country trip without a map, road signs or a weather report. You’re bound to take some detours and waste a lot of time. You might even get lost altogether. An agenda is an essential tool for board meetings. With any task, you need the right tool for the job, and it needs to be in top-notch shape for use.

In addition to a general meeting agenda, two other types of agendas aid the board chair to conduct business efficiently and professionally. Those tools are called the consent agenda and the annual agenda.

Agendas Are the Meeting Organizers for the Board Chair and the Secretary

For many board members, it seems that the board meeting is over after it’s over. However, at the close of the meeting, some of the duties for the next board meeting are just beginning. The board secretary usually begins preparing the board minutes shortly after the board meeting when everything is fresh in his or her mind. Much work goes into the agenda before the secretary sends it out to the board members in enough time to prepare for the next meeting.

The board chair reviews the old agenda and begins the process of developing the agenda for the next meeting. The way the chair words the agenda items also makes a big difference in board meeting efficiency. The board chair may find it helpful to list board agenda items as questions, such as, “Should we sponsor the ABC Conference?” rather than just “ABC Conference.” This way, board members will have an inkling about what they will be expected to vote on, ahead of the meeting. There are a couple of other benefits to posing agenda items as questions. When board members get off track, the board chair can redirect them to the central question. When the question has been answered, it’s time to move on to the next item on the agenda.

The board chair relies heavily on the agenda to keep the meeting moving along while making sure the board covers mandatory and important matters.

Annual Agendas and Consent Agendas Streamline Meetings Further

Many boards like to set up an annual agenda that guides them with agenda items that need to be addressed at various times of the year. The annual agenda lists agenda items on a meeting-by-meeting basis, leaving a little room for flexibility. It’s important to reserve time for emerging trends or pressing matters that could affect other agenda items for the remainder of year.

A consent agenda helps to streamline a board meeting. It’s an agenda inside the regular agenda that includes several routine items and reports that usually have clear consensus from the board, like the minutes and the financial report. Board directors then approve all items on the consent agenda with one vote. If a board member has a question, they can request that an agenda item be removed from the consent agenda and added to another part of the agenda. That item would be discussed at the appropriate time on the agenda.

What Purposes Does the Agenda Serve?

A board agenda is helpful for many reasons. Above all, having an agenda sets a courteous tone for the meeting. The proper tone is essential for discussions that are respectful and collaborative. The secretary prepares the board agenda in consultation with the board chair. The board chair is the main person who uses the agenda, and the rest of the board members use it to fulfil their duties on the board.

To be productive, every board meeting needs to have order. Board chairs use the agenda in conjunction with parliamentary procedure to run the meeting in an orderly fashion. Board chairs can easily redirect board members who speak out of turn by reminding them of where they are on the agenda. Board members accept that the agenda sets the course for the meeting, so it’s the best tool for board chairs to use when problems occur during the meeting, like getting off topic or segueing into other items on the agenda.

Timeliness is one of the issues with which all board chairs have to contend. Experienced board chairs know how long discussions should take. A quick review of the agenda helps them to add up the minutes for all agenda items to make sure that the meeting won’t extend beyond what board members expect. At the beginning of the meeting, many board chairs find it helpful to ask if the agenda needs to change due to late-breaking events.

The board secretary sends the agenda out in enough time before the meeting so that board members can add items if needed. Not all board members will have items to add to the agenda for every meeting, but they always appreciate having the opportunity when they need it. Board members are more likely to be engaged when their items are up for discussion. If a board member at large needs time to speak to an issue, the chair should clarify if there is a time limit for the discussion.

There may not be time to include every item for discussion, so the board chair may need to clarify why a member requests for an item to be on the agenda. It’s common courtesy for board chairs to provide an explanation about why a member’s items weren’t added to the agenda.

The board chair prioritizes each agenda item to make sure the most important or pressing items get covered. Time limits work well for certain items or the chair can refer them to a committee if discussions are bound to be lengthy. The bulk of the meeting should include discussions about interdependent issues that need team problem-solving.

An Agenda Is an Essential Part of Every Board Meeting

Board chairs need to run meetings like everyone’s time is precious — because it is. A well-written agenda that board members receive in plenty of time before the meeting works wonders for tackling the most critical items in a timely manner.

It’s not always a good idea to assume that the meetings are running as smoothly as the board thinks they are. When in doubt, ask. Occasionally, a short questionnaire at the end of a meeting will tell the board chair where other members see the need for improvement. Ask questions about whether members received the agenda in enough time, whether meetings are productive and efficient, and whether agenda items get enough time for discussion. Asking these questions can streamline meetings a bit more, even if they’ve been going well.