The Board is an essential part of any organization, responsible for dreaming what’s possible and where to go. Board members must think expansively, continuously re-imagine the organization, think uncommon thoughts, and make critical decisions. But often we don’t create the right environment for Board members to succeed.
How can Board members consider bold action and make the right choices when time and attention are at a premium? It is important organizations work to create the right conditions that allow their Board to thrive.
Here are some considerations when planning:
How often is enough?
While there is no schedule or frequency that spells success, it is critical to set a regular rhythm for Board meetings. A dependable schedule sets expectations and allows staff members, leadership, and the Board members themselves to make best use of the meetings.
What type of meeting works best?
Face-to-face meetings can be critical in facilitating clear communications and breaking gridlock, but expecting every meeting to happen in person is unrealistic. A mix of virtual and face-to-face meetings can serve an organization very well. Informational updates can happen online or over the phone, allowing members the time to digest information before a decision, while other agenda items requiring discussion can benefit from in-person meetings.
How should meetings be structured?
Successful meetings are, in large part, the result of good expectations management. Managing expectations comes down to letting board members and staff know what’s on the docket for each meeting. Having a detailed agenda enables everyone involved to prepare for discussion and decision-making. We like to structure meetings by elucidating the purpose, listing the topics we’d like to discuss (including explicitly highlighting where discussions and/or decisions are to take place), and stating the planned outcomes of the meeting. It’s also useful to conclude by reviewing the decisions made and action items taken (if any).
What other things can be helpful to think about?
We often don’t allow ourselves the time or mental space to digest information, reflect, and make strategic decisions (for more on this topic, check out Consider). This is especially true for boards, which are often pressured to make a decision soon after hearing data for the first time. Consider the consequences of a decision made too soon; it’s important to build time for board members to reflect on decision inputs into the meeting schedule. For example, gatherings work best when members have had a chance to review informational inputs and ask questions before hand (and not, say, the night before). Deadlines for board materials can be an important way for an organization to discipline itself to make the right choices.
Also, consider how feedback from the Board makes it down to employees. Board members can feel frustrated when a vision is imperfectly executed, but may overlook the fact that their direction was imperfectly communicated in the first place. It’s important to maintain the feedback loop between the members and the people responsible for implementation.
If you’re interested in reading more posts about what Boards should be thinking about, check out this recent blog post.