7 Tips for Successful Board Meetings
Every board member has probably attended a board meeting that was too long and unproductive. They’ve also probably participated in a meeting that was stimulating, energizing, and fruitful. How does one avoid the former and achieve the latter? Michelle Durner, former board chair of the Healthcare Business Management Association (HBMA), offers some tips to run efficient meetings that make the most of board members’ valuable time and resources.

Be Prepared: A great board meeting begins way before it’s called to order, says Durner. It starts with recruiting engaged members who believe in the organization’s mission and giving them the proper orientation to outline roles and expectations. Then, before every meeting — whether its in-person, over the phone, or online — agendas and supporting materials should be distributed to all board members well in advance. Board members should thoroughly read the information, so they are prepared to fully contribute and participate. There should be no surprises.

Have Focused Agendas: Durner recommends that agendas be prepared with discussion times established for each item. “Be respectful of the time of your volunteers and only keep them as long as the agenda calls for unless there are extenuating circumstances,” says Durner. This will prevent board members from becoming disengaged or distracted. A consent agenda may also be an effective tool to keep the discussions strategic and action-oriented. With a consent agenda, boilerplate or non-critical items, like committee reports, are all approved at once without discussion.

Stay on Track: It’s the job of the chair to keep the board on track. That means not letting discussions meander into the weeds and keeping the focus on strategic discussions and action items. If there are strategic issues that require more discussion than allotted, it may be helpful to set aside time to continue discussions later in the meeting or at the next one.

Encourage Debate and Dissent. Board chairs must work to ensure that every director has an opportunity to participate. That means encouraging debate and dissent and welcoming all comments, particularly from less vocal board members. The quieter voices may not be speaking up because they are more deliberate in expressing their views, or they may be intimidated by more senior or vocal members. Durner, when she served as chair, would ensure all are heard by calling on directors that have not spoken up or by doing a roll call, particularly on critical issues. It’s important to have a board culture that encourages debate to ensure that participants are comfortable dissenting, she adds. While the goal is always consensus, debate and dissent are required to arrive at the most thoughtful and robust decisions.

Conduct Governance Training: Durner set time aside at every meeting for governance training. “I felt like it was important for the board members to better understand the governance aspect of the board.” Some board members may join the board without that experience and knowledge, while others could always use further training.

Reinforce the Culture: HBMA developed a board culture statement that outlined how the board should conduct itself, what it stands for, and how it makes decisions. The statement is printed in all board materials and is used as a guide to make sure the board is adhering to those principles.

Seek Continuous Improvement. At the end of every meeting, or just afterward, the chair should take a few minutes to ask board members what they liked about the meeting and what could be done better. This self-evaluation will help the board improve its performance and relationships.
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