Many board members confuse going to meetings with fulfilling their duties. Alas, attending meetings barely qualifies as work – especially when you consider the typical agenda.
A report, a few questions, another report, another question or two, a digression, a discussion about which color to paint the office, and an argument about the wording of the spring appeal letter. All accompanied by stale coffee and staler cookies.
A few hours of this torture and even the most vibrant board members will lapse into a coma.
Can your meetings actually be exciting?
You may not believe it, but important things can occur at board meetings: dreaming, planning, creating the future, figuring out how to pay for it. Perhaps a serious discussion breaks out and participants debate competing visions for the organization.
Solving an immediate crisis can be a productive use of collective time, provided that it falls within the board’s purview. (Neither paint color nor fundraising copy would qualify, and neither constitutes an emergency.)
Many board members like to complain about fruitless meetings. Because I am one of them, let me state my bias as clearly as I can: The primary purpose of meetings is to solve problems and make decisions.
Yes, you can use them to share information, but there are so many other ways to do this — by phone, using social media, through the mail, via email, on your website, etc.
Yes, meetings help to build community and cohesion, but only if they are substantive, satisfying, and productive. Pulling people together for the sake of form – “According to the bylaws, we must meet every month” – is a victory of form over substance.
Victories like that will suffocate your organization.
A better model for your agenda
How can you design a lively meeting that focuses on decision-making? It all begins with the agenda. Use the following model to create your own column heads, then fill in the appropriate information:
Here’s an example for one agenda item:
The most important column is the one in the middle: Decision to be made. In preparing the agenda, think carefully about this. What choices do we need to make? Do we need to make them now? If so, why?
We’re provided a full sample agenda and a template. Try building your next agenda using this model.
It’s all about the decisions
If nothing fits into the decision column – “Approve minutes of last meeting” does not qualify as a decision – consider two alternatives:
1. Add a meaty topic that requires a meaningful decision (and reduce or remove other items accordingly).
2. Cancel the meeting and use other avenues to share information.
Create shared responsibility
Take a look at the sample agenda. You’ll notice that five different people are facilitating different parts of the agenda.
This approach not only encourages shared leadership, but it also improves turnout. Anyone recruited (in advance) to lead a portion of the discussion is more likely to attend.
This agenda design also helps participants understand that their responsibilities don’t end when the meeting is over. Ideally, everyone leaves the room with an assignment or two to be completed before the next get-together.
A portion of the subsequent meeting can be used to report on everyone’s work, and then the group moves on to the next set of decisions.
At the very least, this template can be used to frame a discussion about how to make your meetings more effective. It’s an important conversation, regardless of whether you choose to adopt, adapt, or disregard this model.
This post is adapted from Andy’s book, Great Boards for Small Groups. Check it out!