If you’re frustrated at the end of board meetings because you feel that you’re not focusing on the right issues nor making the most of your scarce board-meeting time, perhaps the following best practices can get your board back on track.
The Right Allocation of Time
Recognizing that an organization’s board of directors has the exclusive franchise for the organization’s future, then the majority of your time should focus on the future when your board is in session. Yet, the board is also responsible for oversight, which is not the future, but current programs and activities. What’s a board with limited time supposed to do?
Generally, spend no more than 25% of board meeting time on oversight. By oversight, I mean current programs, conferences and activities. Another way to think about “current” is the current fiscal year. Do not get lost in the weeds; do not micromanage; do not arm-chair quarterback recent events. Set the expectation through your executive director that staff will provide both an analysis and a synthesis of these projects against the organization’s mission and its strategic goals and priorities.
Get (and Read) Reports in Advance
The next practice is critical. Reports about recent past and upcoming programs and events should be sent to board members in advance of a board meeting. Board members need to at least familiarize themselves with the reports, including an updated financial report, and be prepared to ask questions or offer different perspectives than staff shared in their reports. Certainly, if there are no questions about the reports, then those reports should be accepted, archived and not involve any valuable board time during the meeting.
There’s one more very important aspect to these program reports. It’s simply that reports, including financial reports, are all about history. There are no “do-overs”, so don’t spent scarce board time discussing the activities as though the outcomes can be changed. Of course, discussing history in a “forwarding looking way” is both appropriate and a necessity, but not during the oversight portion of the meeting.
Focus on the Future
Generally, allocate as much as 75% of every board meeting to the organization’s future, beginning with next year. These ongoing board issues include:
- Examination of assumptions that are the foundation of current strategic plan.
- Identification of new factors (e.g., general business or industry climate; pending legislation, etc.) that might directly or indirectly impact the organization’s profession or industry.
- Identification of critical issues that need to be addresses in the next strategic planning exercise.
In addition to evaluating strategic priorities and fundamental assumptions underpinning the organization’s strategic plan, boards also need to allocate sufficient time for governance administration:
- Board recruitment
- Officer succession planning
- Committee support and administration
- Periodic bylaws reviews
- If financials are audited, review and understanding of auditor’s report for the future policy changes
Benefits to Expect from a Balanced Board Agenda
The disciplined practices outlined above should produce the following benefits:
- Much more effective use of board time;
- Ability to anticipate critical issues before they become crises;
- Improved clarity around priorities and goals; and
- More satisfaction for board, staff and members.