Can you run an actually productive board meeting?

There’s something about board meetings that sets everyone up for disaster. Take a group of 5–7 otherwise fully competent, lovely people and throw them into a room together, and suddenly you’re face-to-face with a total meltdown. So, is it possible to run a good board meeting? Can it be done?

I’m planning for a board meeting this week. Here’s a not-so-organized list of what I’m thinking about to make it not miserable — principles, questions, action items, and thoughts around planning and doing board meetings:

  1. Set ground rules. Everyone agrees beforehand the kind of conversation this is going to be. They make commitments to say things like “we” or “I” instead of “you”, to build on previous points, and to stay concise.
  2. Decide ahead of time what you want to have done. Jane Vella calls these achievement-based objectives. Instead of an agenda with a list of nouns (“Operations”, “Funding”), you spell out the specific action you want to have accomplished by the time you leave the meeting.
  3. If we wanted to make sure that we would horribly screw this up, what would we do? This is a tools/exercise from the Liberating Structures framework, but identifying destructive behaviors, you can make space for more creative ones.
  4. Create a minute-by-minute agenda. I mean minute by minute.
  5. Pre-determine who shares when. Haven’t figured this one out yet, but the meeting will be a conference call, so creating dedicated space for different people to share will prevent the conference call mess.

Have you ever been a part of an actually productive board meeting (nonprofit or for-profit)? What happened?

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