It’s an honor to be appointed and serve as a board member for any organization. Those who accept a position on a board should have a high standard of conduct by virtue of their position. Board meetings are formal events because important business takes place in boardrooms. For board meetings to be productive, there needs to be order and protocol. Board meeting etiquette also ensures that boards observe legal and ethical principles.
Boardrooms are places where important discussions and debates take place and where important decisions are made. By design, boards are composed in such a way as to bring multiple and diverse perspectives to the forefront to discuss and debate them with the best interests of the organization in mind. A board’s goal for a board meeting is to vet issues thoroughly to set the stage for good decision-making. Healthy boards are able to bring forth challenging opinions and disagreements in a collegial manner.
Board etiquette refers to how board directors interact and communicate with their peers, executives, and others. How they speak and conduct themselves inside the boardroom and behind closed doors is equally important. Their demeanor is a reflection of their service to their organization and to the greater community.
The Importance of Creating a Culture of Collegiality
Meeting etiquette demands that boards strive toward creating a culture of collegiality. The proper meeting etiquette creates an openness where board directors can bring forth opposing views without fear of instant rejection or undue criticism.
A spirit of collegiality makes it possible for boards to come to a consensus and speak with one voice. Diverse perspectives in the boardroom are productive when board directors enjoy a sense of trust and can expect acceptance and cordiality from their peers, who may disagree with their perspectives. Order and protocol help to bring diverse opinions out into the open or discussion in an efficient manner. The best discussions arise out of contest rather than compromise.
The board chair plays an instrumental role in drawing out as many different perspectives as possible and encouraging full participation while keeping the meeting running smoothly. When problems arise, an experienced board chair will be able to get the meeting on track by ensuring that all arguments and dissenting opinions have a point. Board chairs should never allow bullying, disrespect, or belittling anyone in the meeting.
Meeting Etiquette Inside and Outside the Board Meeting
Meeting etiquette begins long before a board meeting begins, and it extends long after a board meeting ends. Practicing etiquette is much like using your manners. It’s something you should do when others are watching and when they’re not watching, as well.
As time has gone on, many people have gotten out of the habit of offering the simple favor of an RSVP. Board secretaries spend many days and hours planning the meeting so that it goes smoothly. Let the board secretary know if you can’t come to the meeting and whether you will be attending the meeting in-person, or by teleconference or video conference so he or she can prepare accordingly. It’s your responsibility to let them know if you’ll be present or absent. It’s rude and in poor taste to expect the meeting planner to track down your response for every meeting.
Don’t be that person who flies into the meeting just after it begins, apologizing along the way. Arrive early and tend to personal business such as using the bathroom, getting water, and choosing your seat well before the meeting is expected to begin. Arrive at the meeting having reviewed the board meeting materials ahead of time. Review the meeting agenda and ask questions or request additional meeting materials well ahead of the meeting.
Take advantage of using a board portal system like BoardEffect where all meeting participants can log on to the platform and review the upcoming agenda online, review past meeting minutes, and RSVP for the meeting. Modern governance principles rely heavily on using technology to streamline meeting processes and make them more efficient. With BoardEffect, board directors can get their board books completely online and be able to access it from any location.
A BoardEffect board portal is a worthwhile investment that eliminates excuses for board directors who don’t prepare for meetings.
Board directors have much to accomplish inside board meetings as well. Be sure to silence your cell phone before the meeting starts so there are no unnecessary distractions.
Your board should have specific protocols for teleconference and videoconferencing to prevent unnecessary distractions. For example, you may have certain times where participants’ mics are muted to keep out background noise and other distractions. Be sure that outside participants have a way to ask to speak.
Defer to the board chair, policies, or bylaws if there are disagreements on protocols. Be aware of any nervous habits that you may have that annoy others such as pencil tapping or drumming fingers on the table.
If you’re late to the meeting be as inconspicuous as possible and don’t expect the meeting to stop to update you. Don’t leave the meeting early either.
If you know that you have a conflict of interest, let the board chair know ahead of time so he or she can give you time to declare it and will expect you to abstain from the vote.
Be courteous to the board chair. Direct your comments to the chair and wait to be recognized to speak. Avoid interrupting other speakers. Listen actively and objectively and consider all the pros and cons of the issue. Be sure to keep your comments constructive and free of criticism. Resist the urge to be emotional even when you disagree.
When the meeting is adjourned, remember that your duties are still in force. It’s crucial for all board directors to respect the confidentiality and sensitivity of board discussions. Board directors also need to check their egos at the door. All board members must support and uphold board decisions even if they voted against them. It’s considered poor taste to try to dissuade other board members away from an official vote that was already taken during the meeting.
The general board meeting etiquette sets the stage for board directors to establish mutual trust and respect for each other and for the process of governance. In keeping with general etiquette, when you make a mistake, it’s always appropriate to apologize.