How do you make sure your meetings don’t end up falling into those latter categories? A little bit of common sense along with willingness to work through difficult challenges can make sure your board stays connected, and walks out of meetings feeling good about the direction of your organization.
Most of us understand that a clear meeting agenda and packet should be sent to members a minimum of three days in advance, with the expectation that the recipient will arrive having read through all documents. So what else can you do to be prepared?
- Streamline your presentation: Not everything in the packet needs to be in your deck. Your board members have likely read through it all, and have come with questions. Take slides out and use that time to allow for discussion.
- Use graphs when possible: Some information will be in spreadsheet form, but many of your members are visual learners. Keep them engaged by presenting information accordingly.
- Anticipate conflict: If you have some items that you know will cause some tension with certain members, reach out to them ahead of time. Let them know what they can expect, and ask them to hear out other opinions before shooting down an idea.
During the meeting
More often than not, board meetings assemble a group of very talented individuals with a great deal of experience from which you can benefit. Make sure to make the most of this opportunity, maximizing productive discussion time. What it should not be is an “update”, so don’t get too caught up in minutes or financials. Go deep on only one or two topics, and have in mind some desired outcomes to work toward.
- No devices allowed: Enforce a policy of no Blackberries, iPhones, iPads, or other devices that will distract. This might not be popular, so allow for breaks to demonstrate your respect for what they do outside the boardroom.
- Give everyone a chance to speak: It’s not unusual for only a couple voices to dominate conversation, so the Chairperson should make sure to ask everyone in the room to weigh in. You want to make sure all viewpoints and potential solutions are explored.
- Encourage healthy debate: As long as discussion is productive and respectful, there’s nothing wrong with conflict. Make sure the conversation remains focused on the mission of the organization, and doesn’t move into the realm of personal attacks or agendas. Having a passionate board is better than one that’s apathetic.
If the meeting has gone well, you’ll leave with some decisions made and clear direction moving forward. You won’t always have a consensus, but hopefully there was agreement. How do you keep the momentum going?
- Recap immediately: send the members unofficial notes as soon as possible while it’s still fresh in their memories, and they are feeling invigorated, ready to act.
- Make action items clear: Be sure everyone understands their roles and any tasks for individuals or committees. Include a detailed recommended timeline.
- Invite feedback: Once board members have left the room and had a chance to digest things, ask them on an individual basis if they see any room for improvements or efficiencies.
Of course, it all starts with assembling a board of directors that is thoughtful, respectful, and committed to the mission of your organization. But once that’s in place, you want to take advantage of the little time you have together. Do you have any additional considerations from your experience?