10 tips for a better board meeting

Productive meetings don’t just happen. You have to make them happen.

Before the meeting, you lay the groundwork for the kind of discussions that lead to decisions. During the meeting, you stick to your thoughtfully prepared agenda. After the meeting, you keep the momentum going to ensure your board or committee makes progress.

Here are 10 tips to help make your next board meeting, a great meeting.

  1. Set the TONE. The CEO should have some sort of executive report up front that sets the table for what they want to accomplish in the meeting. Be it, “green, yellow, red” or “top issues” — you want to help the board help you. This includes managing the agenda or “board deck” carefully to best use the time to help the business — boards will talk and discuss whatever is put in front of them.
  2. 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.   
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  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. 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.
  9. Share some food! Having a pot of coffee on and a plate of cookies or a dish of candy on the table is good for setting a positive atmosphere. Suppertime or breakfast meetings, if there are resources to provide a meal, even occasionally, works very well in helping build a social atmosphere that cultivates trust which enhances the ability of the group to work together
  10. Build some time into the agenda for increasing the affiliation among directors. This can enhance board’s social capital, its ability to think together. Connecting at a more personal level at the beginning of meetings can be part of a board’s intentional practice, something more than informal “networking time”. One way to do this is by posing a question to all that requires board members to share something about themselves.