Effective board meetings are those that leave board directors walking out the door thinking, “We really accomplished a lot in there.” Unfortunately, that’s often not the case. Poorly run meetings are a huge turnoff for board directors. When it happens on a regular basis, it’s a big issue that negatively impacts a board’s decision-making.

Board directors have heavy responsibilities. Most board directors lead extremely busy lives outside the boardroom as well, which means their time is at a premium. They need for board meetings to be run efficiently and effectively — every time they meet.

Meetings won’t run effectively without pre-meeting preparations. Preparing for effective board meetings is usually a joint effort between the board chair, the corporate secretary and the CEO. When planning meetings, each of them should keep the purpose of the board of directors in mind. The board’s role is to direct the company’s affairs and to develop sound policies. Effective boards will successfully meet the shareholders’ and stakeholders’ expectations and, ultimately, ensure the company’s prosperity.

Pre-Planning for Running Effective Board Meetings

The meeting agenda is the central component of board meetings. Many of the problems that cause meetings to be ineffective center around the agenda. Most of these problems can be easily rectified simply by recognizing how they negatively impact board effectiveness and implementing a few changes to set the stage for productivity.

Meeting planners need to make sure they post notices for meetings as required. They also need to get the agenda and supporting materials out in plenty of time for board directors to be able to review them and form their responses. It also helps for board chairs and corporate secretaries to set a deadline for adding items to the agenda.

Board agendas should properly lay out all pertinent topics, such as sales, research and development, human resources, finances, legal and other big issue topics. Each agenda item should be tagged with a word that tells the board directors how they need to handle the item. Agenda items may require discussions or decisions. Other items merely provide information or updates.

The board chair should hold the assumption that board directors will do their homework and come to meetings fully prepared. This is more likely to happen when board directors get materials early enough. A well-planned agenda creates a road map for decision-making and assigns deliverables with reasonable deadlines.

Running Effective Board Meetings

We can easily see what it takes for running effective board meetings when we look at the elements that drag meetings down and make them unproductive. These factors will surface and manifest differently at individual meetings.

Some boards report having issues with board director attendance. Either too many board members miss meetings or a few members miss meetings on a regular basis. Running more effective meetings is one way to keep board directors interested enough to show up for meetings. If that fails, annual board evaluations may call their attention to the fact that they’re neglecting their board duties and some board refreshment may be in order. Having all board directors in attendance for every meeting will help meetings run more effectively.

Resolving Problems Associated With the Agenda

When a meeting planner fails to send out the agenda and other board materials in enough time, board directors may respond by skimming through them — or not bothering to review them at all. This situation results in finger-pointing, where the board directors blame the meeting planner for getting them materials late and the board chair blames the members for not preparing adequately for meetings.

The second issue with the agenda is the quality of the supporting materials. Board directors need enough information to make decisions, but they don’t necessarily need reams of paper to do that. It’s often helpful to include links to additional information in case a director opts to do additional research.

Agenda organization is another big issue. Board directors complain that they spend too much time on routine items, leaving them with too little time to spend on items of greater importance. Spending a lot of time on routine items can also make board meetings drag on for long periods.

An electronic board management system allows for greater communication and collaboration between meetings so directors can focus on the important issues during meetings. Software solutions allow directors to approve board minutes, handle unanimous consents and discuss board materials before the meeting starts. Board management software streamlines the routine items, making meetings more effective.

During board meetings, board members often agree that certain members will take action on some of the agenda items. When board directors fail to complete actions between meetings, those action items may appear on the agenda meeting after meeting, never getting completed. Diligent Meeting Minutes software automates action items so that board directors remember to follow through on action items. The software notifies the corporate secretary and the board chair that action items were completed.

Role of the Board Chair

A good board meeting facilitator can make or break a board meeting. The board chair needs to keep the agenda moving without being formal and rigid. A good board chair will make sure that all members are participating. A domineering board director can throw everyone else off track and lead to groupthink. A good board director will know how to keep overbearing board directors in check and set the tone for the meeting that all opinions should be heard and respected.

Board chairs who lack experience and facilitating skills may need additional training or mentoring to improve their skills. Facilitators need to take command of meetings by restricting directors to speaking one at a time and maybe even putting time restrictions on lengthy debates. Strong facilitation skills will prevent debates and discussions from turning into unconstructive arguing.

Electronic board meeting minute programs track the time for board meetings. One way for inexperienced board directors to improve their facilitation skills is to review the electronic board minutes and to evaluate the amount of time the board spent on each agenda item and determine whether the board spent adequate time on strategic planning.

Meetings don’t run effectively on their own. They require an effective agenda and an experienced board chair. An electronic board management system is a valuable tool that will elevate the process and the people to run effective board meetings every time.