Are your in-person board meetings the ideal environment for your directors to do their email? (Or, worse, play the latest Angry Birds release?) Does your Board struggle to be conversational around critical or strategic topics? While every board is certainly different, below are some methods that have moved the needle within some of the most engagement-resistant groups:
- Plan a pre-meeting social event or dinner: Board meetings generally have an aura of formality to them, and not everyone is comfortable raising or exploring topics in such formal environments. Therefore, building an opportunity for your directors to connect and discuss the topics outside of the board room can prove highly useful – and very well may lead to some new ideas being brought into your meeting the next day.
- Pass the microphone: In many organizations, it’s common for the staff or volunteer leadership to be the dominant voices in a board meeting. What happens, then, is that after a while many of the reports and agenda items start running together. Having as many directors as possible take the “lead” on presenting or guiding discussion on various agenda topics can help keep the meeting fresh and ensure enough variance in the cadence of the meeting. Even if a director has not been intimately engaged in a topic or initiative, having them co-present that item with a knowledgeable staff member or volunteer can still provide benefit and a welcome burst of diversity.
- Start and/or end meetings with a response question: Creating an environment where all directors feel comfortable sharing thoughts and opinions is critically important for a successful board. As the agenda for any particular board meeting may not elicit such sharing from all directors, meeting organizers may benefit from asking all directors to respond to a particular question or topic at the start and/or end of the meeting. Ideal leading questions tie back into either the goals of the meeting or the organization. For instance, ask your directors about what they see as the most critical agenda topics for the day, or which of the organization’s strategic goals is most important to them or their company.
- Add breakout sessions: Let’s face it, the presentation-response format is essential and necessary for many board topics. For others, though, particularly those that are more aspirational, consider breaking your board into smaller discussion groups. You’ll likely see that some directors have much different voices (and at much different volumes) in these smaller settings than in the main board session. Then, close the breakout segment by having each subgroup provide a recap of their discussions.
All in all, if faced with a board that’s less than engaged, don’t passively allow your directors to participate. Instead, inform them how they will be participating throughout the dynamic board meeting.