Tips for running effective and efficient Board meetings

By Trace Carson,
Senior VP of Association Management

On average, Organization Management Group (OMG) team members facilitate over four Board meetings per week. That’s a lot of Board meetings! So, it’s probably safe to say we know a thing or two about how to run effective and efficient Board meetings. (And believe me, we’ve all been through some that weren’t!)

We often see the words “effective” and “efficient” in conjunction and don’t necessarily think about what they mean. An online search from the Oxford Dictionary defines “effective” as “successful in producing a desired or intended result” and “efficient” as “achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense.”

Isn’t that how we would like all Board meetings to be run? Combining the two definitions above into one, Board meetings should be successful in maximizing desired results with minimal wasted effort (read effort as “time”).

And what’s the purpose of Board meetings? In broad terms its job is to set policy, think and plan strategically, make decisions and set the path for the organization while adhering to its mission and vision. And OMG is here to help!

So below are several tips on how to maximize Board meetings conserving a great resource – volunteer time.

Before the Board meeting

Recognize commitment – Both the Chair and the Executive Director should acknowledge the commitment of the rest of the Board. These men and women are donating their time to serve for a greater cause and that should never be forgotten.

Build a strong Board – The Board’s mission is to ensure the mission and vision of the organization is being advanced. The Board has a goal and an effective Board works as a team to achieve it. OMG is here to provide the support and tools necessary to achieve the Board’s end results.

The Chair has many responsibilities to the Board, and one of those is to set the tone and culture of the Board. He or she should also guide the priorities and direction of the Board. Another role is similar to that of a sports coach in that he or she is pulling the best out of each Board member, engaging them and working in concert with them to achieve the desired objective. To that end, Board members should have an opportunity to get to know each other outside of the boardroom.

The organization’s framework – As Board changes occur, usually annually, the Chair and Executive Director should make sure all Board members are given a set of the organization’s Bylaws and any other important documents that will help them understand how the association is run and how to make informed decisions. Even for those who have participated on the Board for more than one term, it’s always beneficial to familiarize themselves with them again. Other important documents may include the Policies and Procedures and the most current Strategic Plan. The Executive Director will have these documents at all Board meetings for easy reference.

The agenda – The agenda should be a collaboration between the Chair and the Executive Director. Part of OMG’s job is to take the administrative burden off of the volunteers. Our Executive Directors draft the agendas for the Board meetings and curate all of the supporting documents. This is then discussed with the Chair or President and approved before being distributed to the rest of the Board. This practice puts both the Chair and Executive Director on the same page as to sharing the desired results of the meeting.

Review the agenda and supporting documents prior to the meeting – It is OMG policy to send Board Packets to Board members with enough time for review prior to the meeting – usually a week. However, that doesn’t help unless the Board members read the Packet before the meeting. It is the role of the Chair to ensure that his or her Board members are engaged.

Encourage questions prior to the meeting – Both the Chair and Executive Director should encourage questions from the Board prior to the meeting. This saves time during the meeting itself and if one person has a question about something, chances are another does. Also, some answers need to be researched, particularly those focused around financials. So asking ahead gives the OMG team time to research the answer if needed.

During the Board meeting

Follow the agenda, and keep an eye on the time – This may seem elementary, but it’s very easy to digress, get off on tangents, run down rabbit holes, get in the weeds and groove on minutiae. (Well, you get the idea.) Follow the agenda, and if a topic comes up early that is further down on the agenda, it’s up to the Chair to tackle it then or to keep going and get to it in normal order.

Both the Chair and the Executive Director should have a projection of how long discussion of each agenda item should take. This would be part of their discussion when collaborating on preparing the agenda. The Executive Director and Chair should sit next to each other so that the Executive Director can help the Chair keep the meeting on course.

Everyone has a voice – An effective Chair will ensure that all sides of a discussion are heard and that all Board members who have an opinion have an opportunity to express it. An effective Chair will show respect to all Board members and ensure that each is respectful to each other. He or she should be the person to manage any conflicts that may arise.

Decision making and votes – The Chair and Executive Director will follow proper meeting procedures in order to move the meeting forward. Enough time will be allowed for all sides of an issue to be heard. An effective Chair will ensure that all Board members are clear and understand the discussion and motions made by summarizing the points so that there is no misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the issue, vote or consensus. He or she should also be assigning Board members tasks that arise from discussions.

Board Versus Committee Work – Question: What’s a sign that your Board may be dysfunctional? Answer: If the Board is acting as one large committee.

And this can drastically prolong Board meetings unnecessarily. All organizations should have specific committees established for specific functions. The Committee Chair and members are responsible for having the in-depth conversations needed to come to consensus on topics and make recommendations to the Board.

The Board, in turn, should assume the committee has done the necessary leg work and due diligence, ask clarifying questions if needed and respect the committee’s recommendation. What the Board should not do is have a redundant discussion during the Board meeting, or worse yet, become the committee itself. The committee should make the recommendation to the Board which then discusses the pros and cons of it if needed and come to a consensus.

After the Board Meeting

Follow Up – Remember those Action Items that the Chair assigned during the Board meeting? The Executive Director should be e-mailing those out to all Board members (even if they were absent) within two days of the meeting. Minutes, the official record of the meeting itself, should be e-mailed by the Executive Director within one week of the meeting.

Keep everyone up to date – As Action Items are completed or progress in any association matters develops, the Chair and Executive Director, working collaboratively, should keep the Board in the loop so that the next Board meeting can become even more effective and efficient.

All of this is common sense, but omitting one or two of the items above can have dramatically negative results for a Board meeting. Remember, the goal of a successful meeting is for it to be effective and efficient. Board meetings should be successful in maximizing desired results with minimal wasted time.