John F. Schlegel, veteran trainer and former association CEO, describes how chief executives can foster both leadership and productivity at these all-important meetings.
* Can you explain the strategic importance of board meetings?
They're everything--the place not only where business is conducted--that's obvious--but where the culture of leadership is reinforced. This aspect of the meeting is sometimes not given enough attention by the chief executive, who may be preoccupied with logistical or agenda details. But this is an important time when colleagues come together, share war stories, and re-establish the leadership and culture of the organization.
* What can the CEO do to make sure that this underlying agenda is met?
Make sure the business gets done, but support volunteers' psychological needs by scheduling plenty of networking time--something as simple as coffee and doughnuts in the morning or a hospitality suite that is always open. Set up events so that participants have a chance to mix with one another, not just sit next to one another.
These days, volunteers cherish their time much more, and two nights away from home for a board meeting is time enough for busy people. So you have to strike a good balance between social and business activities in a short amount of time.
The second thing to keep in mind is that when board members meet it is an opportunity to train them both explicitly and subtly in the ways of leadership. In fact, I believe that once a year the board should have a training session on effective leadership. This can be combined with an orientation program for new members.
* How important is the CEO's preparation for the meeting?
There is an absolute relationship between time spent preparing and the success of the board meeting. Agenda building begins the moment the current meeting ends. In fact, I counsel that the chief executive have a folder during the current meeting into which he or she can put any items or notes for follow-up at the next meeting.
* What about the actual meeting itself--how can the CEO facilitate decision-making?
A board meeting should have the rhythm similar to any team sport. A good team never begins with its toughest play, for instance. It is best to begin with items that are not controversial, giving board members time to feel they are operating as a team. This is very subtle but important. Then the CEO or chair moves on to the more challenging items of business. Never save the most difficult items for the very end, when people are tired. They may go home with less enthusiasm for returning to the next meeting.
The ending items should be ones that are relatively easy to obtain agreement on, reinforcing the idea of the board as a team. Make a clear ending, and end on time, otherwise people will feel that their time is not being used thoughtfully.
* What about tips for encouraging participation?
Anything the CEO can do to coach the chairperson not to dominate the meeting but to encourage participation is important. For instance, the CEO can have a schematic of the meeting table listing people's names and showing where they are sitting. As the meeting progresses, put a tally mark next to people's names as they speak and periodically show the chair so he or she is aware of who has not spoken up and who is talking too often. You get better meeting because the input is more diverse.
* What room setup works best for board meetings?
The chair and the CEO should be able to have eye contact with everyone at the meeting, and also be sitting next to each other so that they can work as a team. The best arrangement for this is to have the chair and the CEO on one side of a hollow square and the rest of the participants on the other three sides of the square.
* What is the best way to follow up the meeting?
The day after the board meeting the CEO faxes off a letter to board members thanking them and highlighting the main decisions that were made. This becomes the crib sheet, and it shows the board acting as a team, one with a single voice.
* What if there is a secretary for handling the minutes of the board meeting?
Even if there is a secretary, the CEO is responsible for taking the first pass at the minutes--why would a CEO want to relinquish control of something so important? The minutes need to be out within two weeks after the meeting. The longer the interval, the more time for negative politics to interfere.
The following suggestions are excerpted from John Schlegel's 30-page handbook "Enhancing Committee Effectiveness," available through the American Society of Association Executives, in Washington, D.C., for $8.50 for members and $10 for nonmembers.
Presiding over the meeting: * Open the meeting on time.
* Announce the business to be conducted.
* Recognize members who are entitled to talk. Discourage breaking in.
* Restate the issue to be voted on before calling for a vote, and explain the consequences of the vote.
* Put all issues to a fair vote. Don't make assumptions about how committee members feel.
* Announce the results of actions taken and explain the follow-through to be taken and by whom.
* Help expedite business. Don't let discussions drift or go on too long.
* Stay with the agenda. Seek the full committee's agreement to change the agenda.
* Close the meeting on time, or seek the committee's agreement regarding extending the time if necessary.
* Facilitating the Meeting:
* Be a facilitator of meetings; don't hold court. The committee or board belongs to the entire organization.
* Guide, mediate, probe, and stimulate discussions. Let others thrash out ideas. Remember, committees are not formed to validate the thinking of the chair or staff.
* Encourage a clash of ideas, but not of personalities. Good decisions are made when committees examine all sides of an issue, but don't let members personalize the debate.