I recently had the rarest of all association management experiences -- a productive, downright inspirational, board meeting. Having sat through hundreds of board and committee meetings at this point, it made me think about what contributes to a positive board meeting experience for board members and staff alike. Here is my list, but please contribute yours:
1. Unless your organization is going through some tremendous upheaval that necessitates monthly or more frequent meetings, limit full board meetings to no more than four a year. It seems to force people to take them more seriously when they know they are fewer and farther between. If necessary, board business in the interim can be addressed via conference call or email.
2. Establish an agenda and then stick to it. This is an acquired skill, particularly for new board chairs. When you allow meetings to deviate too far from the agenda or fail to help the group form a consensus, meetings get long and board members get frustrated. Then they get uninvolved. On the other hand, it's also important to make sure that all opinions are heard. Once the options become clear, it's time to bring the discussion to conclusion, by either a vote or a determination of next steps to be taken.
3. Make sure everyone is heard, but then move on. We've all been in meetings where one or two people dominate the discussion to the detriment of the outcome. It's up to the chair to rein them in -- politely.
4. Don't do committee work at board meetings. Major projects and issues need work before the board is asked to take action. Make sure the groundwork is done before items are put on the board's agenda.
5. Likewise, routine updates can be provided via written report by committee chairs prior to the board meeting. Board members' time is valuable so ask them to focus on the items that need thoughtful discussion and leave other items as mere reporting functions.
6. Before you end the meeting, make sure board members and staff are clear about expectations and next steps so that you don't have to repeat the discussion at subsequent board meetings.
7. Hold board orientation meetings for new board members as necessary. Help them understand the basics about how the organization operates and be clear about the expectations the association has of its board members. Provide an annual board book for each member that includes key information about your association.
8. Think carefully about who gets to be on your board. Much has been discussed about the need to reduce board size in order to maximize effectiveness, as recommended in Race for Relevance. While I agree with the concept, the reality is that many organizations aren't ready to take that step. You can, however, work to recruit specific skill sets while meeting your other requirements. I have worked with many boards that are based on geographic representation. There's nothing that says a board member who is geographically qualified can't also meet other needs. If a board member doesn't work out, ask whoever appointed him/her (such as a chapter or region) for a replacement.
9. Consider a policy that requires attendance at a specified percentage of board meetings. You can't participate effectively when you don't show up.
10. Publish the agenda in advance and be clear about which items will require a vote and which are for discussion purposes. Some board members may have to consult their own constituencies and need to know beforehand what they may be asked to vote on.
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