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Understanding What Agenda Management Is For Board Members

What Is Agenda Management?

Have you ever left a board meeting with the evening’s discussions swirling around in your head, and yet you couldn’t remember anything that you talked about? Such experiences leave board members feeling like meetings are a waste of time. Board members can easily solve this problem by crafting a good agenda, which saves time and increases productivity.

Meeting productivity should actually start when board members receive their first draft of the agenda. A clear agenda keeps board members on track during board meetings and helps them complete their follow-ups when board meetings are over.

Board Meetings Are More Necessary Than Popular

A reference to a board meeting often equates to a “bored meeting.” Board officers who plan and facilitate board meetings can improve attendance and productivity by being aware that board directors would often rather be anywhere else than attending a board meeting. According to, about 47% of people stated that they don’t like meetings. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that just under half of people dislike unproductive meetings.

Meetings that are unfocused, laborious and boring lose the attention of board directors around the table. Wolf Management Consultants estimates that about 73% of attendees perform other work during meetings. Technology has entered nearly every boardroom by now, so it’s sometimes difficult to know who’s doing board business on a tablet or laptop and who is doing non-related work or contacting family members at home in the middle of a board meeting.

A qualified, experienced board chair, teamed with a clear, well-organized agenda, will help keep the minds of board directors off their mobile devices and focused on the proper agenda item.

Managing Your Agenda for Maximum Productivity

The board chair and the board secretary need to put in a little time before the meeting so that the meeting will stay on track and be productive. A few pre-meeting strategies will help substantially.

Several weeks before the meeting, the board secretary should ask the other board members and senior managers about whether they have any items they would like to include on the agenda. The secretary should be sure to ask the reason they want to include them. This is an important step because if the board chair determines the agenda is overloaded, the reasons for adding agenda items should help to prioritize which items need to be addressed at the next meeting and which ones can wait.

The board chair and the secretary need to review each item and make sure that they require the whole board to discuss or act on it.

In developing the agenda, be sure to state each item so that the board directors know what action they need to take action on. Every statement or question that describes an agenda item should correlate directly to an action, decision or discussion of the board.  For example, if a board director wants to add the topic “25th Anniversary of the Organization,” the agenda item should clarify what action the board should take regarding the event. The agenda item might say something like:

  • Who will take the lead on planning the 25th anniversary celebration?
  • Which venue will we use for the 25th anniversary celebration?
  • Should we change the date of the 25th anniversary celebration?

Getting the First Draft of the Agenda Ready to Distribute

A few weeks before the board meeting, the secretary should send out a first draft of the agenda to all board directors and other people who may want to attend. The secretary should ask for any needed additions, corrections or deletions.

If the secretary decides not to include an agenda item that a board member asked for specifically, they shouldn’t leave them hanging. Rather, they should be accountable and honest and just tell them why. This might alleviate hard feelings that could disrupt the board meeting and create undue tension between board members.

The board should assign different people to take the lead in talking about each agenda item. This would force board directors to prepare ahead of the board meeting with words, charts, reports, articles or other items to support their information. It would also force board directors to pay attention to where the board chair is on the agenda. This structure assures that board directors will also be eager and enthusiastic about their item on the agenda when it comes along.

Using the Agenda During the Board Meeting to Manage an Effective Meeting

The first rule of thumb in managing board meetings is to start and stop on time. Board chairs who hold up meetings for dominant board directors to arrive do the whole board a disservice. This is an issue that causes board meetings to begin later and later. Board chairs who always start meetings on time know that board members will stop arriving late and arrive early or on time and be ready to work if the meeting proceeds without them.

The board chair should remind everyone to turn off their cell phones to prevent distractions. The first step in starting the meeting is for the board chair to ask attendees to review the agenda and to ask the other directors if they want to modify it. Making changes to the agenda before the meeting starts keeps the meeting flowing and prevents unexpected add-ons to the agenda mid-meeting.

Crafting a clear, concise agenda is a good start. It works even better when it is combined with an experienced board chair. A qualified board chair uses the agenda as a pre-meeting tool to perform a mental run-through of how the meeting should run while keeping it within reasonable time constraints. The board chair should have an approximate timeframe in mind for each agenda item.

There are several ways that a board chair can manage a discussion that rambles on. The board chair can choose to move the item to a committee, limit the time for discussion, move the item to unfinished business for the next board agenda, or table it for a later time.

Sometimes boards get lost in what they’re trying to accomplish. In this type of situation, the board chair needs to clarify the question that the board is discussing. To get everyone on the same page, they need to know whether they are defining the problem, making recommendations or identifying solutions. A board chair may also decide to break down the discussion process by allowing 10 minutes to identify the problem, 15 minutes for discussion and debate, and 10 minutes to come to a consensus or vote.

Post-Meeting Strategies for Agenda Management

The board chair may choose to designate certain board directors to complete various tasks. This will set things up nicely for the next meeting. Even if they forget, the secretary will remind them as the first draft of the agenda comes out. A final thought is for the board director to give a verbal recap at the end of the meeting for which director will take the lead on items they discussed. Making a verbal announcement of a requested task will likely encourage the intended member to make a note to fulfill his or her responsibility.

Board directors need to think of the agenda as more than a list of items to discuss. It’s an important board meeting tool. When board members use it strategically, and to their advantage, it turns a “bored meeting” back into a board meeting.

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