Board meetings are an interesting confluence of structure, people and process.
They can be well organized and really help push an organization forward or they can be sources of frustration where little real work gets done. We hope you prefer the latter. 🙂
We had the opportunity to speak with 3 board chairs to get some insight into how they plan and run their board meetings. We were surprised to learn about the specific tactics they use, many of which we’d never heard of before! (Yes, shocking given that we are, in fact, a company that builds meeting software).
Paul Abra, Former Chair – Big Brothers Victoria
“Long ago, I adopted a fairly standard board agenda that places agenda topics into 3 categories: 1) Items for decision 2) Items for discussion 3) Items for information. I’ve found that given all the board meetings I’ve chaired, content fell into one of these three categories” Paul says.
We were surprised to learn about Paul’s agenda template structure – specifically, that more boards haven’t adopted something like this. It captures all the content that’s typically presented and worked on during the course of a board meeting agenda. Perfect for re-use!
“In addition, I really try to push discussions offline that pop up between only 2 or 3 people. If it doesn’t pertain to the group, I curtail it! Better to do that than waste everyone else’s time” he adds.
Ian Batey – Chair, Victoria Housing Society
Ian uses the “Consent Agenda” to full effect for the board meetings he chairs.
What is a consent agenda? Glad you asked.
“The first section of the Consent Agenda lists all of the items of record from the past meeting, such as minutes or decisions and any items that can be read in advance, such as information items, letters, correspondence as well as update on ongoing issues, such as update on the progress being made by staff on implementing the organization’s Strategic Plan” Ian says.
“These items are allocated 5 minutes at the beginning of the Agenda, allowing for any member that has any issues, questions or strategic clarification to seek the information they need. This topic also serves to formally adopt any of this information, such as minutes of the last meeting. If there is more discussion on the topic(s) required, and the majority of the board wants to enter into more discussion, then the discussion takes place” he adds.
“This approach works especially well when the board is experienced, takes the time to do their meeting prep, AND has confidence in the CEO and quality of the documents in this section are well written and organized”
In addition, Ian says “This allows the balance of the agenda to be allocated an appropriate amount of time to be dealt with in a manner that does not rush the process and supports related opinions and issues to be canvassed thoroughly.”
Clearly, the consent agenda is something every board should consider.
Turning to how Boards operate, Ian provides insight into his general approach.
“Yes there are some board members that want to have their voices heard on all and every topic on the Agenda and some board members can become frustrated if, in their opinion, discussion on a given topic goes on longer than they consider worthy or necessary to make a decision” he says.
“It is the Chairs role, to ensure all relevant opinions and observations are able to be communicated and sought on agenda topics, especially those that impact the strategic direction and/or high level operational aspects of the organization. This includes asking members who have been quiet on a given topic, when it is known or anticipated they may wish to or should participate. This is where aspects of the notion of Nose In Fingers Out (NIFO) comes into play. NIFO also is impacted by the extent to which the Board has considered “what type of board it wants to be” and where on the Operations to Full Governance Continuum it wishes to operate.”
“The most important aspect of this is to ensure the board has a solid discussion about where it wants to operate on the Continuum and discussed examples to support the positioning. It also must be recognized that there will be times when the Fingers need to be In, particularly when it comes to issues like Risk, reviewing the Annual Independent Audit, or when there is a threat to the organization” he mentions.
“With this type of preparation in place, the Chair can then moderate the discussion at a meeting, knowledgeable of the range and be in a position to subtly steer the conversation through to directly limiting discussion on a topic. The Chair can reference the earlier Continuum discussion as the reference point as to why they are directing the conversation in a particular way.”
In conclusion, Ian adds “Chairing board meetings is more of an Art than Science. It takes skill, patience and experience to do it well, in keeping with the culture and expectations of the dynamics circumstances most healthy boards should experience.”
Sandy Wagner – Chair, VISOA
Sandy leads the Vancouver Island Strata Owners Association, a group composed of roughly 350 HOAs, in addition to serving on her own HOA.
“I like to make sure that all the council members have the opportunity to give input to the agenda before it is finalized, then circulate the agenda and needed attachments well in advance of the meeting so all members have time to read the documents and are well prepared. For the actual meeting, we have extra copies of the agenda handy for anyone who does come unprepared.”
Collaborative agenda preparation – fundamental for getting maximum involvement and group buy-in.
“During the meeting, I try to give every board member a chance to speak to each motion, recognizing that some are naturally more quiet and others more outgoing. The quiet ones tend to have the most profound thoughts!”
Clearly, Sandy has experience drawing out her board’s wisdom, usually lurking in the minds of introverts.
“When there is a deadline for council members to respond to a matter we agree on the timeline together during the meeting and include that date in the minutes. Then a few days before the deadline we remind all the council members of the date coming up, and ask them to reply if they haven’t already.”
Again, sage advice having the group agree to a deadline – this implies accountability if everyone as involved in the decision!