To paraphrase W. Edwards Deming, how many of you have deadwood on your board? Did you appoint or elect them that way, or did you kill them?
Given the critical role that boards of directors play, it’s unfortunate to see so many boards struggling with “deadwood.” Then again, losing good people to boredom or indifference becomes somewhat understandable when we witness what actually happens in board meetings. Long, frustrating, unproductive and/or boring meetings – the inspiration behind our video, Got the Boardroom Blues? – have led to the departure of many formerly committed board members.
Of course, there is no magic bullet that will transform your board from dysfunctional to effective overnight. Like anything else, sustainable growth and improvement for boards is usually a slow and steady process. That said, effective boards generally have three key ingredients:
A. A clear system of governance principles that is understood and applied by board members and staff.
B. Good people with varied backgrounds and perspectives who are committed to the purpose of the company or organization.
C. A culture of servant-leadership and accountability in which behaviors match shared values.
Once boards have these core elements in place, there is always room for improvement when it comes to the effectiveness, efficiency, and – dare we say – fun, of board meetings. While getting the best out of people in a group setting is no easy task, here are ten tips to help make your board meetings more effective and engaging.
Top Ten Tips for Effective Board Meetings
10. Invite observers: If key ingredients A, B, and C (above) are in place, inviting observers to attend your board meetings can help to elevate the level of discussion and engagement of board members, in addition to demonstrating transparency. Observers can be staff members, consultants, former or future board members, owners or members of the general public, and can be invited to comment or to provide feedback, depending on the type of board.
9. Use Meeting Helpers: This handy set of visual messages helps meeting participants to signal a quick need or question without interrupting the person having the floor, and add an enhanced level of engagement to the meeting.
8. Take Care of Human Needs: Board members are human, too, and so ensuring that the meeting space offers adequate lighting, seating, space and logistics, plus having breaks with drinks, snacks or meals if appropriate, helps to ensure people are focused and productive.
7. Inspire: When people can be so easily drawn into details, ensure that every meeting serves to remind all participants of the big picture – the mission, vision, purpose or Ends of the organization, and the people to whom the board is ultimately accountable.
6. Engage the Senses: The appropriate use of visual materials, color, tactile items, sound and even music can transform a meeting from bland to grand. Just be very careful to not subject board members to Death by PowerPoint!
5. Assign Roles: Prior to or at the beginning of each meeting, assign supporting roles to multiple board members. If possible, assign administrative roles like note-taking and timekeeping to a board clerk or staff; other roles for board members include Process Monitor, Facilitator, ‘Devil’s Advocate,’ and the roles identified in Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats.
4. Engage a Facilitator: Professional meeting facilitators are trained to ensure that groups achieve the desired outcomes during the time available (see: What Do Facilitators Do?). If your meetings are not as engaging or productive as they could be, bring in an outside facilitator to design and guide the process for all or part of a board meeting or retreat.
3. Be prepared: A successful board meeting requires that every board member be prepared for discussion. At minimum, the agenda should be circulated and reviewed by all in advance, minutes should be ready for approval, and reports or documents for discussion should be read before the meeting.
2. Craft an Outstanding Agenda: Design the agenda to include meaningful conversations, opportunities to learn, and
elements of inspiration, variety or fun. All too often, agendas are quickly assembled lists or are copied from one meeting to the next, almost guaranteeing that the meeting will be no more than literally “going through the motions” and featuring little new information, insights or dialogue.
1. Appoint and Cultivate Effective Leadership: A skilled chairperson or Chief Governance Officer (CGO) plays a key role in ensuring that the board sticks to its processes and values, and that all board members are given the opportunity to perform to the best of their ability. Like the captain of a sports team, he/she should motivate and inspire all board members to fulfill on their commitments for the good of the group and the organization. This role is very demanding, and so do not hesitate to provide board leaders with much-needed insight and training through attendance at events like the International Policy Governance Association’s annual conference.
Need help applying some or all of these ideas? Contact Brown Dog Consulting to get the answers to your questions about board effectiveness.