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Board Room “Rules” To Live By

Have you ever sat in a Board meeting gnashing your teeth and saying to yourself, “when is this meeting going to be over?” or “why won’t they listen to me?” or “what is the purpose and my contribution?” These are the typical questions that Board members and other volunteer leaders ask when a meeting is inefficient and not well run.

It is vital to the meeting and the organization to create a set of guidelines to abide by at every Board, committee or other meeting. It also shows respect to the attendees that their time, input and ideas are respected. The following are 12 things you can implement in your meetings that will save time, allow for the maximum level of idea sharing and to insure inclusivity:

  1. Agendas – Meetings will have an agenda. If there is no agenda, then there is no meeting. Agendas should be focused on high-level goals with time allocations. Without an agenda, a meeting should not happen 
  2. Active Listening – Listen to understand the conversations that occur during a meeting. Try to keep your mind and ears open before formulating a response so you don’t miss what a person is saying by thinking about what you want to say back to that person
  3. Openness – All ideas are valid and should be given equal consideration
  4. Strategic Focus – Stay at a strategic level; stay out of the “weeds”. If the discussion is a Board level discussion, getting into the “how to” of an issue is getting into the details. Leave that to a committee or task force
  5. Meaningful – Be brief and meaningful when voicing your opinion. The time on an agenda is limited
  6. Confidentiality – What is said in the room stays in the room. Confidentiality is not just a rule but a legal responsibility of the Board to maintain confidentiality
  7. Business Not Personalities – You can disagree with an idea, but not a person. Be open and tolerant of new opinions and ideas. Something that didn’t work 10 years ago, may work today 
  8. Conflict – Address conflict appropriately and in a timely fashion. If possible, address it when it occurs properly with respect to that person so that it gets resolved and doesn’t fester and grow into a bigger issue later
  9. Timeliness – Meetings will start and end on time as detailed on the agenda
  10. Accountability – Everyone is expected to complete assignments on time 
  11. Respect – Only one conversation at a time; no sidebar conversations. How many times have we seen two or even three discussions going on at the same time? The Board chair needs to recognize this behavior and rein it in to ensure that the person speaking is being heard by the entire group
  12. Decisions – “We will use small groups to make big decisions” should be the mantra (when appropriate). There are times when decision-making is really tough to accomplish within a large group, especially when there is a division or multiple divisions in the group around direction. When possible, divide your leadership group in to two or more groups and have each group examine the issue and report out to the entire Board or committee on a possible path forward. This provides the opportunity for all voices to be heard and for all opinions to be vetted leading to a more effective solution

It is very easy to say that a set of “rules” or guidelines will help a Board or other meeting be more effective, but putting it into practice is a different story. Prior to adopting meeting guidelines, the Board, committee or task force needs to discuss the culture of the group and how decisions will be made effectively and agree to the guidelines in advance. Aligning expectations is the first step to being more effective.