Could your board meetings be more productive? As you’re probably aware meetings of all types can easily become unproductive. While some board meetings are derailed by difficult board members, divisive topics and organisational or community politics, most unproductive board meetings are caused by unconsidered choices about small and simple things such as meeting timings and agenda structure. Getting these simple details right can make a board meeting better for all involved and lead to better outcomes for your organisation.
Below are six questions to consider that will help ensure your board meetings are run in a way that contributes to quality strategic discussion and decision-making on your board.
1. Is the agenda concise and clear?
A long, confusing and meandering agenda can cause board members to mentally check out.
Once someone has lost focus on the key topics for the meeting, their contributions to the discussion and decision-making will be lacking. Instead, look for ways to make your agenda more concise to keep members involved and focused on the right points.
One sure sign that your agenda isn’t concise enough? Check whether your dot points are nested more than two levels deep, for example:
- Agenda Item 1
- Agenda Sub Item 1
- Sub Agenda Sub item
- Sub sub agenda sub item 1
- Sub sub agenda sub item 2
- Sub Agenda Sub item
- Agenda Sub Item 1
If an item requires more than two sub-levels, this is a bigger topic that may require its own separate discussion point — or maybe even its own board meeting.
2. Do your board meetings follow an agenda template?
Having a consistent agenda at each meeting with a similar structure can help improve the flow and cadence of your board meetings. If the agenda for every meeting is structured completely differently, then board members must waste valuable time and mental energy trying to decode it.
Using a consistent template means they can focus more on the topic at hand than when to discuss it. Following a template doesn’t mean things can’t be adjusted on a case-by-case basis, but a well thought through agenda template should meet nearly all of your needs at every meeting.
3. Do You Allocate a Specific Amount of Time for Each Agenda Item?
If the agenda is too long for the allotted meeting time, you won’t make it through all items — or you’ll rush to fit everything in. Neither situation is ideal. Pre-allocating an estimated time for each agenda item can help keep the meeting to your set time and keep discussion on track. It also forces you to think in advance about whether the allocated meeting time and the time needed for agenda items match.
If you’ve never done this before, try a simple system that weights each agenda item against the others. Then decide how much time to allocate to each item based on strategic importance. More heavily weighted items should be pushed to the front of the agenda where possible.
4. Are Materials Available to Board Members Before Meetings?
Board members need to get their meeting packs with enough time to extensively review all materials prior to the meeting. This means they’ll be well prepared to engage in productive discussion. The last thing you want is a board member seeing a document for the first time at the meeting! Board portal systems such as Our Cat Herder can help alleviate this issue.
5. Are You Recording, Assigning and Following up on Actions?
An example action might be: “Board Member A to check in with Board Member B regarding Finance Committee reports”. Ensuring action items are properly captured and assigned to the person responsible during the meeting ensures anything that needs to be actioned isn’t missed. It also gives you a chance to follow up with members and judge their performance to evaluate whether you have any “dead weight” on your board of directors.
6. Have All Board Members Undertaken Governance Training?
While not quite in the same vein as the more structural suggestions above, ensuring that your board members have engaged in some sort of training or professional development in the past 12 months helps ensure they are current on governance practice. They might also bring back other ideas for further improvements to your board meetings that aren’t listed above. See if there’s an annual conference or other board learning event you can send your members to so they’re up-to-date on best practices.
There’s Always Something to Improve in Board Meetings
Even if your board appears to be functioning well, there will still be areas you can potentially improve. Take the time to look carefully at each aspect of your board meeting and question whether it could be done differently or improved.
Of course don’t try to make all the changes you are considering in one hit. Make one adjustment at a time, measure to see if it has resulted in a positive improvement and then decide whether to keep the change or revert. Small improvements and adjustments can result in much larger positive returns as they can help board members engage in more strategic discussion and quality decision making.
Written by Raphael Goldworthy. Raphael is the Managing Director of Better Boards, a leading provider of director professional development for purpose-driven organisations, and convenor of the largest annual gathering of not-for-profit (NFP) and for-purpose directors in the Southern Hemisphere, the Better Boards Conference. Raphael has spent a decade working closely with, and building educational programs for, NFP directors, boards and executives.
Raphael has a deep interest in the intersection of technology, decision making, investment and behavioural economics. He regularly writes and speaks on technology in the boardroom, decision making and biases, governance, leadership and related NFP matters.