Best Practices for Board Meetings

Advice for Efficient and Effective Meetings

Effective Board and Committee meetings are one of the key factors that allow a board from operating most efficiently and helps drive better decision-making. As an advisor to boards, I have participated in hundreds of meetings over the years and have observed both efficient and inefficiently run meetings. Ultimately, the meetings that ran most efficiently allowed the Board/Committee to move forward with its agenda and not be distracted by trivial issues that delay decision-making.

Six Actions to Ensure an Efficient Meeting

1. Development of a clear meeting agenda.

2. Provide enough notice and appropriate materials for members to be prepared.

3. Keep the meeting on time and on topic.

4. Ensure each member is able to voice their views and opinions.

5. Ensure that results are accomplished and/or action items identified.

6.  Include some social interaction and networking time.

Development of a clear meeting agenda

This includes identifying the topic and issues to be discussed during the meeting, so there is no confusion on the purpose of the meeting. The agenda should also include any actions that are required to be taken by the Board/Committee as part of the meeting (i.e. is a topic “for information only” or “does it require a decision”). Identifying who will lead the discussion of each topic must be added to each agenda item. Lastly, each agenda item should have an associated timing, provided in the agenda, so that Board/Committee members have a sense of the timing and importance of the issues to be discussed.

Provide enough notice and appropriate materials for members to be prepared

As a best practice, meeting materials and the agenda should be sent out a minimum of one week before the associated meeting to provide members with sufficient time to review the materials. Some of the boards I have worked with will even send materials out two weeks beforehand and have a pre-meeting internally to discuss materials before the actual meeting date.

Keep the meeting on time and on topic

While this task is one that ultimately is the responsibility of the Board/Committee Chair, it is important that the timelines provided in the agenda are followed. Meetings should not stray too far outside of their purpose. As an extreme example, if your Audit Committee is discussing the organization’s budget, the discussion should not stray into discussing a specific personnel issue around the CEO’s performance or compensation which are unrelated to the topic at hand. If you find your meetings starting to stray off topic, acknowledge the member’s concern as being important but that it be taken off-line and discussed at a later time. This ensures that your meeting stays on schedule and respects all Board/Committee member’s time.

Ensure each member is able to voice their views and opinions

While this task largely falls on the Board/Committee Chair, it is important that all members feel their opinions matter and are provided sufficient time to discuss their views. If you find one to two members dominating the conversation, make sure that once they have finished their point that you then ask other members, who have not had the chance to speak, to weigh in on the topic and provide their perspective. This helps ensure that all members feel like they are providing value to the Board/Committee and that a comprehensive discussion of all potential views can be had amongst the group.

Ensure that results are accomplished and/or action items identified

It is important that any actions required of the Board/Committee relating to the agenda are generally accomplished, as part of the meeting. This means bringing items to a close after an appropriate discussion has been had to ensure things are kept on track. If it is felt that more time is needed to discuss a specific issue, a follow-up action item should be identified, at the very least, so the Board/Committee has specific direction on what the next steps are to come to a resolution on a specific issue.

Include some social interaction and networking time

It is important that you allow Board/Committee members to have some time outside of the scheduled agenda to interact and network amongst each other. This helps to create a positive atmosphere and culture amongst the Board/Committee which will help ensure that all members feel respected and trust can be built. Many boards will schedule Board dinners the night before/after a Board meeting for all members to interact. This can also be done through scheduling team-building experiences/exercises either between meetings or at strategic off-sites where the Board and management are discussing organizational strategy.

Effective Meetings = Positive Results

Ensuring effective meetings of the boards and its committees is key in making sure that your board is performing at a high level. Effective meetings also lead to an appropriate discussion of all relevant issues and opinions amongst its members before actions are taken. If you find your Board/Committee meetings are less effective, look for signs of this through the factors listed above and ask questions about how you and your board can improve. By looking at what works best in creating effective meetings, you can improve your board’s overall effectiveness which should lead to better decision-making and positive results for your organization.

Written by Peter Landers

Jul 27, 2018

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