Updated July 2021
As a function of many professional jobs, leading a board meeting of your colleagues or supervisors will eventually arise. While it can be stressful to lead a collaborative discussion or dictate an agenda, implementing a few tips can help you succeed.
Usually, board meetings occur regularly, but whether this is your first time leading the session or your twentieth, these tips and tricks can help you succeed. Many companies, specifically non-profit organizations, have a board of directors meeting to oversee and help provide insight into the company’s growth and strategic plan. Members who serve on a board of directors can rotate to leadership roles; the length of service is usually broken down into set terms so that one member does not stay on the board too long and stagnate the company’s movement.
Most people who choose to serve on a board already have a full-time job and specific profession that may or may not be the same as what the company specializes in. For instance, a lawyer may sit on the board of a professional dance company to offer their legal expertise if a question arises during the meeting.
As a facilitator of a board meeting, keep in mind that the attendees have tight schedules and distinct careers, so using the time given as effectively as possible is vital for not only your success but the company too. By following the tips outlined, you will begin to learn how to prepare for a board meeting.
1. Establish Expectations for Board Meeting Participants
Immediately setting expectations for the meeting can help attendees focus and thoroughly engage in discussions.
A few days before any meeting, each attendee should be provided with a board meeting agenda and set of expectations, especially if members will be required to actively participate or complete any pre-work to prepare for group discussions. You should use a secure document sharing tool to share the agenda with virtual board meeting attendees to ensure the document remains commercial in confidence.
As the discussion leader, your role as a presenter hinges on developing talking points and effectively leading the meeting attendees through the discussion with pitstops at crucial decision points.
Suppose you are leading a regularly occurring board meeting, like a quarterly or bi-annual board meeting. In that case, providing attendees with the board meeting minutes from the last gathering is essential to provide context and save time that attendees might otherwise spend reviewing decisions from the group’s previous meeting.
Furthermore, outlining a plan for what you’d like to accomplish in a set period via an agenda sets the tone for your board meeting. Providing context then outlining how the group will move forward are two critical planning steps that meeting leaders much accomplish before they even step into the conference room.
2. Set and Complete Realistic Board Meeting Goals
Setting realistic goals allows the organization to progress and aids attendees in actually accomplishing tasks assigned to the group.
Meetings must be worthwhile and have delineated goals outlined from the beginning. Especially for members of boards of directors, the time set aside for board appointments is usually outside their regular scope of work, meaning that these individuals want to work effectively and decisively.
As the meeting leader, setting realistic goals within the prescribed amount of time is essential for success. For each item listed on the agenda, the group must complete a brief discussion followed by a decision point or needed action. Identifying when the debate ends and when the attendees should take or assign action is an essential task of the meeting’s leader. As you plan the session, allow the proper amount of time to accomplish your goals.
3. Progress Forward from Past Board Meetings
Understanding past meetings and the overall trajectory of the company’s goals can help a facilitator continue to build on top of past meetings’ goals and decisions.
The goal of regular board meetings is to ensure that the organization is moving onward and upward. So, as you set the plan for your current session, make a note of outstanding action items and ensure execution.
A good way to briefly recap the group’s last meeting and set the current session’s tone is to review past action items for completion. If members of the group did not complete tasks or agreed that the job would take more time to complete than expected, make a plan to address that issue before moving on to other agenda items.
Suppose you are not the official secretary notating the meeting. In that case, you should personally take note of what decisions were made and who accepted responsibility for completing tasks so that you can follow up during the interim and ensure the job is moving to fulfilment.
4. Utilize Breakout Rooms
Providing a small group setting allows board members to express creative ideas freely.
Using video conferencing services during the pandemic taught us to utilize breakout rooms to promote conversation and collaboration within small groups. Individual voices shine brighter in a small group setting, so allowing the group to brainstorm with few others can lead to creative and inspiring ideas to move the board and the organization forward.
When meeting in person, using the same principle to establish small group work sessions can lead more reserved group members to share and solve problems quickly and efficiently. Additionally, when people can stand, stretch, move about the space, or venture to other rooms, their attention spans are reset, allowing more investment into meaningful conversations.
5. Plan Regular and Recurring Board Meetings
Maintaining a regular schedule can ensure that meetings reach quorum more often since a board member can reserve a specific appointment time for the sessions monthly or bi-monthly.
Businesses increase performance and productivity when board meetings occur regularly and recur at predictable intervals. Regular meetings make it easier for board members to complete tasks timely and eliminate many scheduling excuses since members can anticipate meeting dates.
Determining whether or not meetings will be in-person or held virtually is also essential. If attendees know about potential travel ahead of time, scheduling becomes less burdensome. If your company is still working predominantly virtually, that situation might change how you choose to facilitate the meeting. Further still, especially as our country recovers from the pandemic, a hybrid meeting might occur where some attendees are in person while some join virtually.
Regardless of location, board members must know when and where a meeting will occur to allow plenty of time for scheduling, travel, and meeting preparation.
6. Take Meeting Notes Concisely, Focusing on Action Items
Keeping meeting minutes short and to the point allows for quick review while maintaining good record-keeping practices.
Taking notes is critical in a meeting to ensure continuity and progression. However, notes are most valuable when they are concise and focus on tasks and assignments. When notes are dictation-style, it becomes burdensome to review or to rediscover assigned responsibilities.
Notes should begin with a list of those in attendance, so it is clear that the board convened a quorum before decisions about the organization are made. A helpful tip is to structure your meeting notes in the same format as the agenda and use a similar structure across multiple meetings. Board members will find the consistency comforting and easy to understand. Furthermore, with logistical parameters set early on in the board’s lifecycle, you will need less time to orient attendees at the beginning of the meeting. If you want a lot of useful ways to track and manage your meetings, you can consider using a board meeting software to help track that information. You can use Sizle to create, store and share documents and meeting notes so that you have a consistent log of topics covered during your meetings.
7. Institute A Decision-Making Process
Ensuring every attendee understands the steps necessary to make and finalize a decision is essential for the moderator.
During the meeting, planned and natural decision points will occur. When these moments happen, the facilitator needs to prepare to resolve the question and assign any follow-up research or actions.
As you are crafting the agenda, some obvious points for finalization will arise; additionally, as the meeting progresses, other questions can arise from attendees who have express creative solutions to new problems or who pose a new question tangential to the agenda. If you, as the moderator, feel that a new question is too far outside the scope of the established schedule, you may tactfully close the discussion and add it to the plan for the next recurring meeting. Remember, time management is critical.
Another consideration when formulating a decision-making process is how to confront a non-unanimous vote. First, clearly understand the company’s bylaws to know whether or not a divided decision is allowed. If so, does it require a majority vote? Furthermore, a discussion must be encouraged during the meeting, but bullying should not be permitted, especially surrounding critical decision points. A facilitator can mitigate bullying by controlling the flow of conversation and limiting name-calling or rising disputes between attendees.
8. Listen and Lead
Leaders who listen before engaging or intervening are successful in soliciting good ideas and maintaining a friendly status quo.
Active listening during the meeting can help you be a better leader. Additionally, listening to feedback after the forum can help you be more successful moving forward.
As you listen to the discussion, take notes. As a moderator, you have a unique perspective about what is upcoming on the agenda and how a particular discussion point might be connected later in the conversation. Tying in big thoughts and circle back to good ideas will inspire confidence in your leadership abilities and make meeting attendees trust your facilitation and judgment.
Encourage participants to engage in the meeting because without full participant and discussion. Without discussion to hear, a moderator’s job becomes dull and challenging. One way to spur discussion is transparency, establishing that without conversation, a consensus is impossible.
9. Inspiring Board Members with Final Thoughts
Ending the meeting on a high note can help attendees feel excited about their assigned tasks, the meeting’s decisions, and the company’s outlook, and the board’s future.
After a successful meeting, plan to inspire attendees with a conclusory statement that encompasses the work and the feeling of the meeting. Reflecting on the member’s contributions and the ideas discussed during the conference can inspire those board members to work aggressively towards completing assigned tasks before the next meeting.
A good practice is to shape a general thought before the meeting that would suffice, but then, as the session progresses, add specific quotes or ideas from the group to your conclusion for maximum impact.
Placing a board member in a centric position for organizational success will add personal investment to the company’s mission and the outcome of the meeting.
10. Request Evaluations Post-Meeting
Between meetings seeking advice on improving will make you a better moderator and inspire trust among the board.
Self-reflection and evaluation are essential to ensure meetings are as efficient and effective as possible. Requesting feedback from attendees and listening to constructive criticism can help make you a better moderator in the long run.
Soliciting feedback reduces hostility. Sometimes, even unconscious facilitation choices irk attendees, from using “umm” too often to cutting discussions short to adhere to a timeline. Every piece of feedback offered by board members can potentially make you a better officiator but also can release built-up tension from not acknowledging perceived problems from the convening.
Other Tips & Tricks to Inspire Board Meeting Success
The main charge of a board of directors is to advance effective, well-informed decisions.
By maximizing the effectiveness a member’s time during a meeting, a moderator can accelerate meeting productivity and encourage positive discussion.
A Moderator’s Role
The role of a board meeting moderator is to solicit discussion and decisions in a structured way to ensure goals are being set and accomplished in a given period. By asking questions and digging for more information, people who lead a board meeting have an obligation to push attendees to think creatively and effectively problem-solve.
At times, due to social constructs, a facilitator might feel self-conscious or poorly about asserting themselves in the meeting, since in a social setting, this might be considered uncouth. To mitigate insecure feelings, prior planning and establishing trust within the group can be helpful.
Whether you are a seasoned moderator or new to facilitating, you will succeed if you stick to certain best practices. In short, the primary duties of a powerful facilitator are:
- Direct focus through discussions deliberations, stopping any unnecessary or unhelpful commentary;
- Name group bias and ensure that individuals feel comfortable expressing unpopular ideas;
- Ensure equal input from all board members using tactics like small groups;
- Build decision-making procedures to transform ideas into action;
- Undertake a risk-benefit analysis before any decision-making for the board of directors to consider and weigh.
A moderator of a board meeting must have a high level of interpersonal skills and social awareness. By keeping these duties at the forefront of your planning and execution of the meeting, any person working to become a more efficient moderator can achieve their goal.
Practice Makes Perfect
Learning how to conduct a board meeting can be a complex task. Board meetings involve many deliberately arranged parts and a high level of detail. Like any other skill, facilitating a board meeting requires practice before perfection.
Setting ground rules for yourself and other attendees can create a safe space to cultivate creativity and spur decision-making. An example is to ensure that every meeting begins with an introduction and a brief activity to set intentions for the discussion and ensure all attendees are in a reasonable frame of mind to work through the agenda.
Additionally, as a facilitator, you should immediately establish your role and an interpreter and leader and set out functions for the members to reduce bullying and ensure full participation. When reviewing the agenda at the start of the meeting, plan to issue a statement that concisely covers the purpose of the session.
At times, board meetings can seem tedious, so keeping a quick pace makes attendees feel like their time is being respected and can allow a board member to maintain a high degree of focus. Ideally, a successful meeting could end ahead of schedule. Jumping into new business on the program early in the session allows members to be fresh for creative problem-solving and enable follow-up actions to be assigned more quickly via volunteering.
A facilitator must reduce “scope creep” – or discussions that veer too far off the agreed-upon agenda. Kindly remind the board members why you are working today and return to your umbrella purpose statement for a re-centering exercise. A challenging but necessary decision for a moderator is to cut off an individual derailing the meeting.
Focusing on the result of the meeting can help spur others to follow your lead. By setting and assigning deliverables throughout the session, members will begin to understand your facilitation style and follow quickly and efficiently. Focusing on shifting narrative and change through action can help the company move forward and accomplish its goals.
Practice makes perfect; setting yourself up for success as a moderator takes time, pre-work, and dedication, but following these tips and tricks can lead you to success.